Pinky Cole among honorees of Grove Park Foundation’s 2024 ‘Heroes’ Awards

Westside nonprofit celebrates changemakers and recent community success stories
Pinky Cole, Owner of vegan restaurant The Slutty Vegan, speaks At Morris Brown College in Atlanta on Thursday, April 28, 2022 . (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Pinky Cole, Owner of vegan restaurant The Slutty Vegan, speaks At Morris Brown College in Atlanta on Thursday, April 28, 2022 . (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Grove Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to achieve collective benefit for residents of the westside Atlanta neighborhood, hosted its second-annual Grove Park Heroes Neighborhood Awards Thursday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Delta Sky360 Lounge.

The foundation distinguished Slutty Vegan founder Pinky Cole Hayes with a Grove Park Foundation Icon Award for her philanthropic work with youth and minority entrepreneurs through her nonprofit Pinky Cole Foundation.

Five additional honorees were recognized for their work in community development, health and wellness, housing and more, including:

  • Health and Wellness Hero LaTonya Gates Johnston, founder of PAWKids
  • Business Builder Heroes John and Gail Mapp, owners of Level Construction Services
  • Neighborhood Builder Hero Chuck Johnston, author and retired educator
  • Neighborhood Champion Kathy Waller, executive director of Atlanta Committee for Progress

The honorees were included on a mural on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway painted by artist Petie Parker earlier this month.

“We want to make sure that we’re honoring the true heroes of the westside,” said Gavin McGuire, Grove Park Foundation’s executive director.

“It gives us a chance to pause, look at the past and continue to bring more people into our work. We’re trying to tell the story of the people who are instrumental in Grove Park’s growth, development and historical roots for our kids and generations to come.”

Since 2017, Grove Park Foundation has brought the neighborhood’s people, nonprofits and corporations together to collaborate on opportunities that bring equity and a better quality of life to the communities of Center Hill, Dixie Hills, West Lake, Hunter Hills, Almond Park, West Highlands and Rockdale.

KIPP Woodson Park Academy was founded in 2019 as a partnership between Grove Park Foundation and Atlanta Public Schools in Atlanta, Georgia. (Grove Park Foundation)

Credit: Grove Park Foundation

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Credit: Grove Park Foundation

KIPP Woodson Park Academy serves over 900 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Created in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools in 2019, the campus opened in 2021 and has a health clinic and early learning center. The foundation and Atlanta Public Schools collaborated to fund the school.

The foundation is also involved in the ongoing restoration of a 300-seat performing arts theater and cultural center for residents. McGuire says the 10,000-square-foot building will host future Grove Park Heroes ceremonies beginning in 2025 or 2026.

“It’ll be a place for the community to gather with their neighbors for diverse entertainment options,” he said. “We’ve been getting feedback from the residents on the type of programming they’d like to see because we want everyone to connect.”

Grove Park Foundation also teamed with Atlanta Track Club to start Kilometer Kids, a volunteer-based program that teaches kids in the neighborhood the benefits of running and regularly exercising. Now in its second year, 50 kids from Grove Park actively participate in the program.

“It starts kids off early with building great habits around health and wellness,” said McGuire, adding that Grove Park’s annual 5k run is now an AJC Peachtree Road Race qualifier. “It meets kids where they are. They don’t have to be athletes or future Olympians, but we just ask that they come committed.”

Tech Sense, Grove Park Foundation’s weekly class held at the Fulton County Library’s Dogwood branch, offers tutorials on Microsoft Office Suite, videoconferencing, telemedicine, and online banking and bill pay. The computer literacy classes are an effort to close the digital divide affecting mostly senior citizens.

“We want to make sure that no one is left behind and comfortable with addressing their basic needs,” McGuire said. “We look at barriers and challenges as opportunities to teach and empower, so we want older adults to be able to leverage technology the right way.”

Grove Park Foundation provides additional resources for affordable housing and entrepreneurship.

Its N.O.W. Financial Capability Program, standing for Neighborhood Opportunities for Wealth, holds financial literacy seminars on credit repair, budgeting, savings, and steps toward homeownership. Four hundred residents have participated in the homeownership workshops.

The program also has one-on-one coaching themed on professional and workforce development. Seven hundred fifty youth and adults were involved in the college and career readiness programs.

“As you build places and products, it’s important to build and empower people to make the wages they need for dignity housing and not just crisis or emergency housing,” McGuire said.

In February 2022, 110 affordable housing units were built in Grove Park. Working on an additional nine home ownership units at this time, 1,000 more units are being added over the next 10 years.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joins Grove Park Foundation executive director Gavin McGuire and Columbia Residential staff members to cut the ribbon for a 110-unit affordable housing apartment complex in February 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Quinn West)

Credit: Quinn West

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Credit: Quinn West

Another project in the works is The Corner Market at Hollowell, a space which will have retail stores, vendor spaces, a training facility and a banking center to give Grove Park a vibrant feel.

“Black residents were toiled through so much disinvestment and neglect,” McGuire said. “Now, the tide is rising to make sure they’re reaping the benefits of what’s happening on the westside. We’re building an ecosystem to support our families.”

Grove Park Foundation teamed with Columbia Residential to build a 110-unit apartment complex in February 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Grove Park Foundation)

Credit: Grove Park Foundation

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Credit: Grove Park Foundation

Leading Grove Park Foundation is a full circle moment for McGuire. After he graduated from Morehouse College in 1995, the New Orleans native worked for a year at Fulton County Health Department created mentoring programs and provided health education for low-income housing complexes Bankhead Courts, Bowen Homes and Perry Homes.

“Those were the seeds planted to give me a great foundation and jumpstart my career,” McGuire said.

Grove Park Foundation executive director Gavin McGuire has previously held leadership roles with nonprofit organizations such as Usher's New Look Foundation, Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Club. (Six Shots)

Credit: Six Shots

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Credit: Six Shots

Heading Grove Park Foundation for three years, McGuire previously held leadership positions with Usher’s New Look Foundation, Andrew and Walter Young Family YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and developed his own youth development program with his college roommate, Success 360.

“Being with Grove Park Foundation is an intersection of everything I’ve already done,” McGuire said. “I look at the root cause and take a comprehensive approach to addressing the issues. The westside is special with the agency of the community, so it makes the heavy lifting a joy.”

McGuire’s three-decade-career in nonprofits stem from “having a passion to serve people, executing a vision, and having strong leaders in his inner circle.” With five of Grove Park Foundation’s board members living in the neighborhood, he says he gets community input directly from them.

“The more you listen, the more you come up with solutions to address problems,” McGuire said. “The people close to the issue or the challenge are the people who have the best answers, so it’s been well coming back in a different role but still serving the people.”