Taking time to lend a hand

A few weeks ago I spent a Saturday afternoon visiting a program called Conversations with Young Sisters, hosted by the non-profit organization Enchanted Closet.

The metro Atlanta volunteer-run organization interested me because of its mission to enhance the self-awareness, self-esteem, self-sufficiency and healthy living of girls between age 12 and 19. It prepares them for all the social and professional milestones they’ll experience in their lives. It’s a small organization that fills a void, especially for girls in single-parent households.

Through the Conversations program, girls get a chance to express their feelings and gain greater understanding on issues that are important to their generation. The hope is that through small-group discussions the girls will improve their communication and decision-making skills.

My visit to the program really had nothing to do with my work at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. However, like many of the journalists I work with, volunteerism and community service are important to me. Besides, getting to know our communities makes us all better at what we do.

For reporters that’s a little tricky. As news gatherers, we must balance the ties between our coverage and the organizations or agencies we support in our private lives. Obviously, serving on government boards or commissions, paid or unpaid is off-limits. Often a journalist’s participation is limited to journalistic organizations or otherwise promoting journalism education. Normally, unless a staffer writes about the organization, this restriction doesn’t limit a journalist’s ability to serve on local or neighborhood organizations that are unlikely to generate news and those that do not generally seek to shape public policy.

Across our newsroom, reporters, editors and people in other positions that touch the newsgathering process are admirably committed to volunteer service in churches, community charities, civic clubs, local libraries, fine arts groups, hobby groups, sports leagues, fraternities and sororities and alumni groups. At the AJC, we encourage staffers to make time for community service and afford them time to do so even in the work day, as long as the support doesn’t conflict with their job duties.

But news is unpredictable. Even these groups sometimes find themselves in the news. In that case, a staff member with ties to the institution must stand aside from any controversy and not take part in the news coverage. Still, the AJC and Cox Enterprises, which owns the newspaper and its parent Cox Media Group, respects community citizenship.

The Saturday I visited Enchanted Closet’s program, I began to wonder how it functions as a volunteer organization, given all the work it does. I learned that for organizations like Enchanted Closet, individual and corporate involvement is their life blood.

Serving over 500 girls a year through its programs and thousands through its prom dress giveaway, executive director Bonita Johnson said the organization “could not function or have the impact” it has without individual and corporate support. She credits it with growing Enchanted Closet from a “project to a service organization.”

As an institution in metro Atlanta, the AJC has long been a partner in community efforts. At Cox, a portion of the company values statement reads: “We believe it’s good business to be good citizens to the communities we serve … through non-profit partnerships, volunteerism and both in-kind and financial support. “

Community also is one of the four pillars of Cox’s commitment to diversity, said Deborah Thomas, senior vice president of human resources and communications for Cox Media Group.

“Giving back and engaging is being socially responsible,” said Thomas. “We want to make sure we are giving back in a way that connects with communities.”

This weekend, Cox is sponsoring Bike MS: Cox Atlanta Ride 2013 for the eighth year. Cox Enterprises has been the title sponsor of the bike riding event since 2003. I’ll be there to volunteer with my colleagues. The event supports the National MS Society-Georgia Chapter, which assists Georgians impacted by multiple sclerosis. This year there are over 1,300 riders, including 66 corporate teams, registered for the two-day event kicking off at Calloway Gardens. The organization expects to raise more than $1.2 million that will support research and funding for a cure and treatment of the disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.

“Corporate support is central to what we are doing to raise funds for research,” said Tal Wright, chair of this year’s event. “It’s gratifying to see.” Wright, whose mother recently passed after living with multiple sclerosis, also serves on the board of the Georgia Chapter of the National MS Society.

Just think of the difference so many individuals and companies make to the lives of others through giving of their time and resources. If you haven’t found a way to give back, it’s never too late to start. You can get more information about Enchanted Closet at www.enchantedcloset.org. For information about the Georgia MS Society visit www.msgeorgia.org.

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