Christy Carr Betz of Dunwoody founded Giving Grace to help the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. CONTRIBUTED

How a little bit of grace is keeping families off the streets

After nearly 10 years of teaching preschool, Christy Carr Betz discovered her passion.

That’s always a good thing. But what’s really impressive about Betz is she was willing to put her upper-middle-class existence on hold to walk alongside those with whom more and more of society just can’t be bothered.

It started in 2012 when Betz’s three children were still in preschool and she was a stay-at-home mom.

A friend posted she’d just dropped off some badly needed clothing at the Church on the Street, a ministry that serves the homeless in Atlanta. At the time, the ministry needed slightly worn men’s jeans. Betz went through her husband’s closet, selected four pairs, and took them to its Midtown office.

It didn’t take long for Betz to discern that the need for clothing was perhaps the most pressing but not the only one.

“I started collecting donations in the suburbs and bringing them down to my homeless friends,” she said.

After a year of volunteering and getting to know some of the homeless folks better, Betz realized that some of them were homeless because they could not afford to save for a deposit and first month’s rent while paying for hotels; and that the needs went beyond that.

To get to a job that wasn’t near a MARTA line, that paid nearly twice as much, some needed transportation, too.

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Here’s where Betz’s story gets really interesting because as much as some nonprofits might long to, they can’t just buy people cars. Right?

Betz had an idea.

Many of the families she encounters just needed — indeed deserved — a little bit of grace to improve their situations.

On Facebook, she created a private group of mostly affluent residents who lived north of the city of Atlanta called Giving Grace.

With their help, she intended to quickly raise on a case-by-case basis enough funds to help meet the needs of metro Atlantans who were either homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless.

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Sometimes, that means helping people, mostly single parents, find housing, or pay rent or the cost of day care or a car repair. Other times, it is helping create and support a plan to sustain them beyond whatever emergency they are experiencing at the time or connecting them to other social service organizations.

Whatever that looks like, it lasts far beyond the initial contact and the need.

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Betz and her team don’t commit to helping everyone. They don’t even commit to helping until they’ve raised the funds to do so.

“Before we help, we get to know them and figure out how to help long term,” Betz said. “Our goal is to walk alongside them.”

That Facebook group, by the way, is how Anne Isenhower of Atlanta found out about this work. She was quite impressed, but who wouldn’t be?

“I’ve spent many years in the nonprofit world, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “Small amounts make a huge difference for recipients, who are often working families or single moms and dads with small children, and often keep them out of shelters for a few days or a week until they can get back on their feet.”

Giving Grace, a program of the nonprofit Remerge, is now in its sixth year.

The majority of donors Betz has never met. They are just random people who, she said, just want to help. Some give as little as $5 while others have donated as much as $5,000.

Today, they number more than 5,200 and are growing with each passing day.

It works because they are going to help Calvin pay his rent or Martha to keep her power on, but it all started with Christy Betz, a 39-year-old Dunwoody mother with a command for crowdsourcing and the will to help those who are less fortunate than her.

It’s what makes Giving Grace not just unique but worth emulating.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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