Pastor William Givens visits with David Greene and his son David Greene Jr. after Sunday service at Buckhead Baptist Church. Givens has been lauded for his outreach to the community and his message of inclusiveness. Photo credit: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Northsiders giving back all year round

Story by H.M. CAULEY/Photos by JASON GETZ

Although we’re entering the traditional season of giving, many focus on helping others year round.

Kathy Swahn is one of four people nearby proving that it takes a village to sustain a healthy, caring community — and an inspiration to lay the foundation. In 2004, she was the spark behind a project in her leadership class that founded The Drake House, an emergency housing and support program for homeless single mothers.

Swahn was working part time raising money for North Fulton Community Charities when she took part in the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce leadership class, and had no trouble finding a worthy cause for their service project.

“At North Fulton Charities, I saw there were no options for women who were homeless single mothers with children,” the Johns Creek resident says. “At that time, we gave them a MARTA token and sent them downtown to services, but that uprooted them from their communities and schools.”

Swahn’s classmates contributed money and expertise. In 2005, the nonprofit bought a run-down apartment complex, refurbished it and found single moms to fill it.

“Four private individuals from that class underwrote the risk for the loan, and we got another $100,000 to hire employees,” says Swahn, executive director of The Drake House.

Today, the nonprofit has almost $4 million in assets, a staff of 16 and 32 apartment units.

“I see what a difference we make with these families every day,” Swahn says. “I love the work. I can make people understand there’s a need and that we can make a difference.”

The Drake House. 10500 Clara Drive, Roswell. 770-587-4712. thedrakehouse.org

Insider Tips:

Volunteers and donations of food and furnishings are always needed at The Drake House.

The Drake House is named for Mary Drake, the founder of North Fulton Community Charities.

Sheila Bailey, No Longer the Face Foundation

As with Swahn, a leadership class played a role in shaping Sheila Bailey’s future. While participating in a Gwinnett leadership program in 2014, Bailey became friendly with a fellow student who invited her to give an empowerment talk to a women’s group. The classmate was unaware that Bailey is a survivor of domestic violence. Bailey shared her experience with the women’s group and was surprised to learn that most of them were survivors, too.

It led her to a realization. “I was no longer the face of violence,” Bailey recalls. She celebrated herself on Facebook with a post stating that she is a survivor. Responses poured in from other survivors of domestic violence and people who knew current victims or were themselves being physically abused.

“I knew I had to do something,” Bailey says.

Bailey, an events manager in Sandy Springs, launched a foundation and gave it a name that reflects her new awareness. No Longer the Face celebrates survivors and helps women find safe ways to exit violent relationships. “We don’t provide shelter, but we partner with organizations that do,” Bailey says. “We’ve been able to bless women who have financial difficulties with funds, too.”

The young foundation’s goal is to raise at least $15,000 annually. A June fundraising event raised $9,000. Some of those funds have gone to survivors, as well as the Women of Virtue Transitional Foundation, Bailey says.

Much of her foundation work involves fielding phone calls and advising victims. Bailey says: “It’s honestly a blessing when you have a woman that calls you and says, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I left and for the first time, I have had a peaceful night’s sleep.’ “

No Longer the Face Foundation. 470-238-8629. nolongertheface.com

Jay Litton, Roswell United Methodist Church Job Network

Jay Litton noticed volunteer activities for a job network on a church pamphlet in 1997 and became intrigued. As a software company salesman, he has a knack for landing great jobs, and decided to share his talents with the network. Litton transformed the program by recruiting 120 volunteers, setting up workshops and offering hope to hundreds within 18 months.

The Roswell resident turned a 90-minute after-dinner program into an 8½ hour event that’s held twice a month and typically draws more than 200 job seekers.

“The satisfaction is so significant that some volunteers have been with me for 15 years,” Litton says.

Volunteers are both church members and non-members leading workshops on social networking, resume writing, dressing for success and how to ace an interview. Employers come for job fairs hiring candidates ranging from recent grads to workers in their 60s.

Five years ago, Litton’s wife, Donna, stocked an “attire for hire” closet that has outfitted more than 3100 clients.

“What’s really satisfying is that we get churches from around the U.S. wanting to duplicate what we’re doing,” Litton says.

Roswell United Methodist Job Networking. 814 Mimosa Blvd., Roswell. 770-261-1739. rumc.com/connect/adults/job-networking

William Givens, Buckhead Baptist Church

You could say that pastors give back every Sunday preaching from the pulpit. And that’s true for William Givens of Buckhead Baptist Church. However for Givens, seemingly small gestures can have a larger and more significant impact on others.

Beyond the church’s community outreach providing people in need with emergency assistance, and its international programs such as supporting women escaping sex trafficking in Uganda, Givens establishes relationships with people for the simple purpose of offering encouragement.

“My entire life is based on convincing people to follow [their calling] no matter where they are in life, because it was the best decision that I ever made,” he says.

Givens and church members do what he calls “chaplain work,” supporting the Lovett High School basketball team, for example, by attending practices and games as far away as Crisp County. Before and afterward, Givens reminds individual players of their strengths and what their doing right. “Even if you have a bad game, I’m looking for the one thing to encourage you on,” he says.

It took time for the Buckhead pastor to fully realize his calling to ministry. Years ago, a pastor in his native South Georgia sensed Givens gifts and periodically nudged him into speaking in front of congregants. Givens’ heart was truly opened to helping others in this way when he visited Thailand in 2002 and witnessed the biting poverty of the region.

And though he was a chaplain during active duty for the U.S. Army National Guard in Iraq, Givens didn’t immediately go into ministry when he returned home. He finished college and became a successful UPS business executive.

But by 2008, he decided to leave his profession and enter the seminary at Mercer University. “I had been married 16 or 18 months,” Givens says. “There is no reason for a newlywed to leave UPS. I absolutely felt a calling. I don’t push Jesus outside of church. I just want people’s lives to be better. That’s why I encourage people often.”

Buckhead Baptist Church. 4100 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 404-255-5112. buckheadbaptist.org

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