For the King holiday or any day, consider becoming a volunteer

Here are organizations making a difference across metro Atlanta that could use your help
Volunteer Lisa Blanco and LaTonya Gates, PAWKids executive director and founder, prepare food donations. 
(Courtesy of PAWKids / Nicholas Jude Photography)

Credit: Nicholas Jude Photography

Credit: Nicholas Jude Photography

Volunteer Lisa Blanco and LaTonya Gates, PAWKids executive director and founder, prepare food donations. (Courtesy of PAWKids / Nicholas Jude Photography)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized the importance of helping others, and one of the cornerstones of the King federal holiday being observed on Jan. 15 is volunteerism. As the civil rights leader once noted, when a person volunteers, “you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

Shari Martin, president and CEO of the Cobb Community Foundation, said of the many challenges facing society, “It’s not so much a question of what keeps you up at night. The question is: What breaks your heart?”

There certainly are many issues in metro Atlanta that can, and should, break hearts: homelessness, mental illness, sex trafficking, elderly and veteran issues, child welfare and more. While there are many governmental and nonprofits addressing them, people helping people — volunteering — is vital.

As part of the King holiday observance, the King Center partnered with the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, the Elizabeth Foundation, Our House and other community partners to collect, sort and assemble care kit items for the unsheltered and homeless on Jan. 15.

Here is a look at how to help four nonprofit organizations as a volunteer.

A volunteer helps organize baby products at a day of service for Our House. 
(Courtesy of Our House)

Credit: Thomas Q Pham

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Credit: Thomas Q Pham

Our House: Keeping homeless families intact

Our House’s mission is to provide transformative care to end the cycle of homelessness for families. It operates a 76-bed facility with 18 individual family bedrooms so families can stay together. The nonprofit provides up to six months of housing. Ninety percent of the residents are Black single mothers. To be eligible, a person must have a child under 5 and attend workshops on achieving regular employment and improving housing stability.

Stephanie Lloyd, director of development and marketing, makes a connection between their mission and King’s vision. “Atlanta is such a strong tight-knit community with a deep willingness to lend a helping hand,” she said. “When you come together, it makes us all stronger. Giving back to the community makes the community stronger. The simplest things really do make a difference.”

In addition to shelter, Our House operates an early-childhood education program in three locations where volunteers help build pre-literacy skills and confidence with children under 5. It also runs four free full-service health care and mental health clinics. Last year, its staff and more than 100 volunteers helped 3,200 adults and children.

Volunteer opportunities include serving as a classroom assistant reading and playing with the children or helping with meal services either by bringing in pre-cooked foods or cooking a meal in the kitchen.

“It’s important for our community to see that the families who are in the shelter are hard working,” Lloyd said. “We all need a helping hand at times, especially children who are in their situation through no fault of their own. You can actively make a difference. Volunteer as a classroom assistant or just come and rock babies.”

Our House. 173 Boulevard. 404-522-6056,

LaTonya Gates, founder and CEO of PAWKids, started Claudia’s House, a food pantry. 
(Courtesy of PAWKids)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

PAWKids: Aiding educational, employment success

PAWKids started in 2015 as an after-school enrichment program in the Grove Park section of Atlanta near Donald Lee Hollowell Boulevard. LaTonya Gates, executive director and founder, grew up in Grove Park and remembers and draws inspiration from the late Hosea Williams’ Feed the Hungry campaign.

“It’s about volunteering in a place and time when we need it,” Gates said. “We had seniors with nothing to eat. Kids are two to three years behind in reading. How could this be? Something is wrong.”

With the support of the historically Black Paradise Baptist Church and the majority white Westside Presbyterian Church (hence the PAW name), she purchased a former trap house and transformed it into a safe after-school place. The vision grew as she rallied the community to address the neighborhood’s issues and to provide the skills needed for educational and employment success and healthy families.

A donor-created fund pays for group and individual counseling at the Gathering Place. During the pandemic Gates started Claudia’s House, a food pantry that also distributes hygiene supplies. PAWKIDS Plaza, an outdoor community space, debuted in 2022.

“We are helping people get therapy and feeding them,” Gates said. “We are engaging parents and helping them. It’s as simple as cooking a pot of soup or going to Publix and, for $90, buying food for a family of five.”

Volunteers are welcome to drop off pre-cooked dinners and can pack healthy lunch bags, provide hygiene bags, drop off food and new clothes. There are a variety of service opportunities available.

Gates goes back to the words and actions of King and Williams. “We’re in the same 30318 ZIP code as Buckhead – only a railroad track separates us,” she said. “We have volunteers coming from Buckhead in their Range Rovers and saying they not only haven’t been in this part of town but they don’t have Black friends. We have volunteers who really care about people of color and are engulfed in love. We can do this as a community. We’re breaking down barriers. We’re changing minds and hearts. This is community.”

PAWKids. 1643 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. 404-600-5268,

Volunteers Amy Williams and Carla Jackson prepare Christmas decorations for one of two campus houses in Kennesaw State University’s Ascend Community that serve once-homeless students. The Cobb Community Foundation connects volunteers to nonprofits and projects addressing various needs in the county. Courtesy of Leadership Cobb Alumni Association

Credit: Leadership Cobb Alumni Association

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Credit: Leadership Cobb Alumni Association

Cobb Community Foundation: Responding to varied needs

The Cobb Community Foundation works as a kind of clearinghouse with donors, businesses, governments and other organizations to help the community prosper. “We know the needs in our community and who can help,” president and CEO Shari Martin said. “We want people to think how they can make a difference. We apply their responses to our knowledge of the community and bring them together.”

Martin believes volunteering helps both parties. “We tend to live in our own bubble,” she said. “It’s easy to assume the whole world is like you and has the same opportunities and challenges. We help people expand those bubbles, and volunteering is the way to do it. It allows you to understand some of the challenges other people have. Those insights and knowledge allow you to be a more well-rounded person and stronger contributor to society.”

Ways to volunteer include packing food, tutoring students and visiting or checking up on seniors. Volunteers even provided holiday decorations for the two townhouses at Kennesaw State University dedicated to housing formerly homeless students. On its website, the foundation created the Cobb Community Connection where hundreds of organizations serving Cobb County and their volunteer needs are listed.

Cobb Community Foundation. 1100 Circle 75 Parkway, Suite 1000. 770-859-2366,

In another project that involved Cobb Community Foundation, volunteers from Genuine Parts Company laid sod during a 2023 NW Metro Atlanta Habitat for Humanity build. Courtesy of NW Metro Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

Credit: Courtesy: NW Metro Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

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Credit: Courtesy: NW Metro Atlanta Habitat for Humanity

Elizabeth Foundation: Boots on the ground

The Elizabeth Foundation organizes a boots-on-the-ground type of activism where volunteers go every Sunday into homeless encampments, mostly around Cheshire Bridge Road, and help. They hand out hot meals, toiletries and blankets and speak words of encouragement in a parking lot. They distribute some 500 hygiene packs weekly.

“We give them toothbrushes to clean socks,” said Marie Hurt, board chairman and director of client services. “It seems small to us but for someone on the streets, it’s important. We not only feed and clothe our clients but we take on special cases. We’ve helped a gentleman with Stage 4 lung cancer who’s been homeless for 24 years by paying for a reduced motel room. He has a place after his chemo treatments.”

The Elizabeth Foundation has a steady core of seven to 10 volunteers but members of churches and other organizations help out, as well.

“It’s important for people to realize how fortunate they are,” Hurt says. “If you can divide and conquer and everyone do a little bit, then you can make a difference.”

The Elizabeth Foundation. 2625 Piedmont Road., Suite 56-363. 404-468-6503,


Contact Hands On Atlanta, a one-stop shop bringing together volunteers and nonprofits: 404-979-2800,