Families First breaks ground on return to Atlanta’s Westside

One of the state’s oldest and largest family services agencies is returning to where it got its start 125 years ago: Atlanta’s Westside.

Families First, founded in 1890 as the Leonard Street Orphans’ Home, broke ground Thursday on its new headquarters in Washington Park. The adoption and foster care agency is renovating the former E.R. Carter Elementary School to become a resource center offering an array of family services. Families First, also the state’s largest mental health service provider, sees an average of 37,000 children and families each year.

Mayor Kasim Reed said the organization’s relocation to the Westside, one of the city’s most impoverished areas, is a key part of efforts to improve the communities there. Reed and civic leaders have called for renewed focus on English Avenue and Vine City in the wake of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium under construction.

“When this work is done, it will be a place where lives are improved and will be part of an overall transformation in this neighborhood,” Reed said. “We’re just getting started.”

The move comes after Families First raised more than $12 million in a “Family Matters” capital campaign, with significant philanthropic gifts from donors including the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, John and Sue Wieland, and The James M. Cox Foundation, among others. Cox Enterprises includes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution among its holdings.

Families First CEO Kim Anderson said the organization sees its move from Midtown to Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard as a homecoming. The event serves as a reminder “that families are first, because children should never, ever be last,” she said.

In addition to the capital campaign, the nonprofit sold its Midtown headquarters to help purchase the school. Work is scheduled to begin next month and the organization anticipates its completion in the spring.

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