Families First coach Lewis Dudley, 35, guided Debra Crockett, 71, as she played cornhole at the grand opening for the new Families First Community Resource Center in Washington Park.

Families First expansion opens in Atlanta’s Westide

A year after breaking ground on its new location, one of the state’s oldest family-services agencies is beginning its next chapter in a familiar location.

More than 100 donors, elected officials and guests gathered Thursday in the parking lot of what was once Atlanta’s first African-American public school, in Washington Park, for the grand opening of the expanded 126-year old Families First agency.

Moving its headquarters from Midtown back to the Atlanta’s Westside means things have come full circle for the foster-care and adoption agency. Its new location in the renovated E.R. Carter School is one mile from where it was founded on the Spelman campus in 1890.

The new Families First Community Resource Center will enable the organization, the state’s largest mental health service provider, to increase the number of children and families it serves each year from an average of 37,000 to 200,000 by 2020.

The relocation is a boon for Westside, which has been a target area for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other civic leaders looking to improve the communities in the area around the new Falcons stadium.

Families First’s move was made possible by a $13.3 million fundraising campaign, backed by contributions from donors including the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, John and Sue Wieland, and The James M. Cox Foundation. Cox Enterprises includes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution among its holdings.

In addition to the fundraising campaign, the agency sold its Midtown location to help pay for the new location.

“Although it’s almost 90 degrees and the calendar indicates it’s September 15, at 80 Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard, Families First Resource Center at E.R. Carter, today is Thanksgiving,” Families First CEO Kim Anderson told the crowd.

Mayor Reed planned to attend, but was out of town and unable to return in time, according to a Families First spokesperson. Amy Phuong, Atlanta’s parks and recreation commissioner, represented the office.