Recent events like the midterm elections reminded of how divided we are, which can make us feel powerless and discouraged. Amidst this tense climate, however, the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities – 400 cities strong – offers a more unifying alternative. And thanks to Compassionate Atlanta, the cities of Atlanta, Berkely Lake, Clarkston, and Decatur have committed to increasing compassion through local initiatives, policy and projects.
“Compassion is a strong and reasonable choice and we have to learn how to shift the way we think to make that our first choice,” said Compassion Atlanta Executive Director Leanne Rubenstein.
Drawing from her decades of experience working in the “mental health and refugee world,” Rubenstein describes her role as a “compassion cultivator” with 123 Charter Partners organizations and growing.
In addition to engaging with metro Atlanta cities, businesses, organizations and schools to endorse and practice the charter for compassion, the nonprofit hosts a variety of programs to allow dialogue and promote action. For example, Compassionate Atlanta conducts mindfulness training in prisons, monthly meet ups at Kavarna Coffee in Decatur, and represents its cause at city council meetings. Other initiatives include addressing issues of diversity equity, children and youth and homelessness.
“Our Children and Youth team worked with a Title I school in Roswell to install a buddy bench and connected them with the Phoenix & Dragon book store to provide books for their social emotional learning program,” Rubenstein said.
Most recently, the nonprofit agreed to incubate a collaborative initiative to address homelessness started by Compassionate Atlanta leaders Shelly Fine and Rob Johnson, “A Home for Everyone in DeKalb.”
“We discussed our concern about the limited shelter space in DeKalb County. We were also aware that there were no temporary shelters in the county for the freezing nights,” Fine said. Both had professional and volunteer experience with the homeless: Fine as a licensed professional counselor and Johnson after decades with the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
The two then invited a group of local ministers, nonprofit agency representatives DeKalb Continuum of Care service providers, and concerned citizens to join them.
“When A Home for Everyone in Decatur had carefully decided its purpose, structure and core objectives through 2019, Compassionate Atlanta agreed to become the fiscal agent. Convening collaborative planning events, developing educational resources on homelessness, and supporting the opening of new winter warming/freeze/inclement weather shelters will require modest new private philanthropy resources,” Johnson shared.
According to Rubenstein, churches and other centers could serve as temporary shelters on a freezing night, if they shift their thinking away from the long-term commitment of a traditional shelter.
“A church may say – we’re not a shelter – but they may offer teen lock-ins where they can accommodate a temporary overnight stay. They don’t need to be a shelter but can be a safe space on a cold night for a homeless family,” Rubenstein said.
This fall, A Home for Everyone in DeKalb and the DeKalb County Department of Community Development staff have already begun meeting to gear up for opening of several new short-term winter freeze warming shelters.
And looking ahead to 2019, Compassionate Atlanta anticipates both continuity and intentional growth.
“It’s about how do we further engage our current partners and how do we bring more people into the conversation,” Rubenstein said.
Certain initiatives will continue on – like offering compassion integrity training to those in recovery or experiencing homelessness and working in more schools to model compassionate behavior. And collaboration will be at the root of the work.
“One of the things about Compassionate Atlanta, we don’t do anything alone, it’s all about who’s already doing something and let’s work together,” Rubenstein said.
To learn more, visit compassionateatl.org.