Category Archives: ACSS Awards & Accomplishments

Otis Hillsman’s Mission: “To Serve Others”

Otis HillsmanOtis Hillsman has been with Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency since day one. As vice president of programs and inter-agency relations, he has helped numerous homeless men and women on the path to self-sufficiency and has set in place the tools to help many more.

Otis is retiring at the end of the year. But his ideas will live on. The man who considers his life’s mission “to serve others” shared some of those ideas in a keynote speech to graduates of ACSS Class 37.

Click on the video below to watch highlights from Otis’ speech.

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For the Record Books: ACSS Class 29

graduatewidefullBy Natalie Lynch | ACSS Volunteer

Before I heard the words, I knew something was unique about Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency’s 29th Graduating Class. There was something contagious and prideful in the widths of their smiles. The way they held their heads up high made them all appear taller than anyone else in the room.

At a March 22 graduation ceremony held at the Atlanta, Mission, Class 29 had earned bragging rights that day, with the highest graduation rate of any ACSS class. Many of the graduates obtained employment prior to graduation and still had perfect attendance records.

In the weeks leading up to graduation, members of each ACSS class are taught job-related skills as well as proficiencies for obtaining employment, such as help with resumes and how to answer tough interview questions.

keynotefullIt was quickly apparent why Danny Tennial was nominated for Class President and chosen to speak at graduation. He was a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker, who both amused and captivated the audience.

He told the graduates, “If you can’t walk, crawl… If you can’t be the sun, be a star.”

He told them to carry an affirmation each day and repeat it, “We are powerful, ambitious, creative, determined.”

NoviembreKeynote speaker Maurice Novembre spoke humbly of his fall from grace. He worked in web design and media format for SDK International and had credits in the movie Hope. He got involved in what he called some “unsavory women and activities” and two years later, at age 25, was living out of his car.

With the help of ACSS, and a couple of years of hard work and determination, he obtained employment in the mailroom for a company.

He said, “Your path is hard for a reason, and you should not have any sense of entitlement.”

graduatefullNovembre has no plans to stay in the mailroom. But he is working very hard while he is there and learning as much as he can about the organization.

His short-term goals include obtaining a management position in the organization. And his long-term goals include owning his own company. However, he does not want to be boss; he wants to be a leader.

The difference, Novembre said, is that “a boss is delegated and a leader is chosen by their peers.”

DanaAt the end of the graduation ceremony, Dana Johnson, CEO and president of ACSS, made closing remarks.

“Thank you for letting me work for you,” Johnson said. “We work as hard as we do because we believe in you.”

Past graduates of the ACSS program were recognized.

As only a witness to this graduation, and an ACSS volunteer, I was proud of these graduates who worked so hard to change their lives. Change is hard. It takes courage, determination and strength. From what I saw of Class 29, they have all of these things and so much more.

RallyACSS is always looking for more volunteers. You can make a difference to help change someone’s life, and volunteering makes you feel good! Please visit us online to learn more about volunteer opportunities with ACSS.

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Happy New Year from ACSS!

Much to celebrate: ACSS clients, staff, board members and other friends gather for a holiday party back in mid-December.

Much to celebrate: ACSS clients, staff, board members and other friends gather for a holiday party back in mid-December.

Here at the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency it is indeed a happy New Year’s Eve, as we look back on some of the accomplishments you helped us achieve in 2012:

Our CareerWorks program graduated 335 individuals. These graduates completed a three week structured job readiness training program, created individualized career plans, and received customized job placement assistance.

Within 90 days of graduation, 230 CareerWorks graduates obtained full-time employment. Furthermore, our job retention rate after 180 days is more than 75 percent.

ACSS was awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Labor and several foundations to continue our work with homeless veterans. Since 2008, more than 530 homeless veterans have received training and support to help find employment and reintegrate into mainstream society.

Our Café 458 Life Stabilization Program reached a 70 percent disability benefits attainment rate for individuals who are unable to work due to mental illness and physical disabilities.

On behalf of the board, staff, volunteers and clients of the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, we would like to thank YOU for your incredible support of ACSS and its mission to empower homeless individuals to achieve economic self-sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life. By offering your resources, time and dedication over the past year, you have helped change the lives of hundreds of men, women and veterans who are now on the path to employment, permanent housing, and a brighter future.

As we prepare to ring in the new year tonight, we hope that ACSS can continue to count on your support as we strive to break the cycle of homelessness in our community. If you have yet to make an annual gift this year or you would like to increase your giving, please consider making a donation today.

Thank you again for your support of ACSS and our programs. We send blessings to you and your family on behalf of those who have been, and will be, blessed by your kindness.

Best Wishes for a Fantastic 2013 from your friends at ACSS!

P.S. Please note, your 2012 tax-deductible donations must be postmarked by December 31st. We will accept 2012 donations electronically via our website until midnight on Monday, December 31st.

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ACSS Inaugural President & CEO Charles Edwards to Retire

Charles Edwards

The Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency’s (ACSS) Board of Directors announces the retirement of its inaugural president & chief executive officer, Charles R. Edwards, effective December 31, 2012. Upon completion of his tenure at the helm of ACSS, and after enjoying six successful careers over the span of 40+ years, Charles will spend more time enjoying his bride, and spoiling his grandchildren. He remains both passionate and committed to the mission of ACSS, and the Board is excited he will offer his services as a trusted advisor and volunteer.

Charles says, “Helping to establish, launch and position ACSS for a bright future to truly help break the cycle of homelessness in metro Atlanta has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. And, it has given me the privilege of working with some of the best people in the world!”

Under Charles’ leadership, ACSS is positioned to achieve great things:

  • We have a strong and cohesive board of directors.
  • We’ve developed bold and exciting mission and vision statements buffeted by an enduring set of core values.
  • Our sound 5-Year Strategic Plan is designed to be fully integrated operationally from each board committee throughout ACSS to each staff member.
  • The employment readiness models in our CareerWorks and Veterans Employment Assistant Programs are proven.
  • We have enhanced our Café 458 Program beyond life stabilization for people with disabilities that prevent them from working, to include a culture of helping to improve the Atlanta community through volunteerism.
  • The philosophy of “Collective Impact” by establishing strategic partnerships with strong complementary agency partners, employer partners, and the faith-based community has truly been embraced.
  • ACSS is well on its way to validating an exciting model to increase its capacity to serve people by leveraging instructional technology tools to establish satellite sites. And, we have strong support from the City of Atlanta’s government leaders.

Dana Johnson

But most of all, we have forged an exceptionally strong staff that is talented, passionate, and committed to the cause of Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness! To that extent, the Board is also pleased to name Dana B. Johnson as Charles’ successor. Dana has been with ACSS/Samaritan House for seven years and has served in various capacities, most recently as vice president of development, finance and administration. She brings a passion for nonprofit management and proven success in securing and leveraging resources to maximize outcomes.

The ACSS Board wishes Charles the best in this new phase of his life.

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Graduation Day for ACSS CareerWorks Class 17

ACSS Class 17 Graduation.

On March 2nd, ACSS held a graduation ceremony at a new venue — Atlanta Mission’s downtown facility across from Centennial Olympic Park.

The ceremony was filled with excitement and high emotion… as usual. We graduated 27 VIPs in CareerWorks Class Number 17. To support our graduates, five prospective students for Class 18 were there — along with friends and family of the graduates, the ACSS Staff, ACSS student volunteers from the University of Michigan and a host of supporters from Atlanta Mission.

In her address to fellow CareerWorks graduates, Class 17 President Brandi Bell said, “ACSS empowers our dreams.”

You can read more about Brandi here. And please visit our Facebook page to see more photos of the event!

CareerWorks is an intense job readiness and life skills training program that continues to offer resources and support to graduates even after they gain employment.

The graduates of ACSS Class 17 are breaking the cycle of homelessness in their lives. But they could not have done it without the generous support of ACSS’ donors and volunteers. To find out how you can support future CareerWorks classes and other ACSS programs, please click here for information on volunteer opportunities and here for ways to donate.

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Who are the homeless? They are us.

ACSS Class 17 President Brandi Bell.

Meet Brandi Bell. Class President. Associates’ Degree. Pursuing bachelor’s degree at Georgia State. Florida cosmetology license. Mom to Kyle. Bright, enthusiastic, smart. And, homeless.

What? How can Brandi, with all of her special gifts and talents, be living in a shelter? Brandi’s story has been told countless times, especially in the brutal economy of the past four years. The difference is that Brandi entered the CareerWorks program at Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency a month ago and now she has a plan.

In her address to the 17th ACSS graduating class, Brandi thanked the staff and volunteers and congratulated her classmates. Her enduring remark merits some thought: “ACSS empowers our dreams.”

I talked to Brandi after the graduation reception and asked her about her Five Year Plan, one of the cornerstones of ACSS’s employment readiness program.

Brandi is a very focused and realistic woman. She knows that a dream is just an idea without a plan, and that long-term dreams get put on the back burner when the immediate priority is to find employment and affordable housing. So, her plan includes short-term actions (job, housing) and long-term goals (a bachelor’s degree in Marketing to work with a hair care line in Atlanta).

Brandi would love to work right now in customer service and I could see her in that role. She is upbeat, professional and friendly. And wouldn’t we all love to hear someone like that when we call with a customer service problem!

I asked Brandi what she would be doing on Monday. She had her whole week mapped out with meetings, interviews — and it will start all over again the week after, and the one after that, until she and Kyle have a home — because she is on the path to her dream.

ACSS provides support for Brandi and others like her who have graduated from the program. There is abundant evidence that followup prevents individuals from falling between the cracks and losing heart in this difficult job market.

All of us have needed a hand up some time in our lives. All of us have benefited from a mentor from time to time. These things have empowered our dreams and transformed them from ideas into reality. This is what has happened to Brandi Bell and her 26 classmates. This is what ACSS does every day.  

You can meet someone like Brandi Bell every day at ACSS. Attend a monthly graduation ceremony. Donate. Volunteer. There are so many ways to be a mentor and be that hand up in a person’s life.

Meanwhile, I’ll be looking out for Brandi Bell somewhere in Atlanta, pursuing her dream. She is going places.

Written by Barbara Hughes. Barbara is an ACSS volunteer and serves on our Marketing & Communications Committee.

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Triathlete’s Advice to ACSS Graduates: “Build on Your Little Wins”

Triathlete Bishop Leatherbury found his inspiration in the affirmation of ACSS Class 13: "Powerful Warriors, Victorious Champions!"

“Take it one mile at a time,” Bishop Leatherbury advised graduates of ACSS Class 14. “Build on your little wins and when you get setbacks, take it in stride.”

Bishop is an ACSS board member, Southeast regional managing partner at Tatum Partners, LLC and, most recently, a successful finisher in the Ironman World Championship — a grueling triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

He joined the competition to raise funds and awareness for ACSS, a non-profit organization that empowers homeless persons to gain meaningful and permanent employment through intense life skills and job readiness training programs. You can see his fundraising progress here:

While competing, Bishop says he was inspired by an affirmation coined by members of the previous graduating class (13): “We are Powerful Warriors, Victorious Champions!” With a thick black marker, Bishop inscribed “PWVC” on his hands, which he glanced at often for encouragement throughout the long triathlon.

The Ironman World Championship has a strict time limit of 17 hours. Bishop set a personal goal of 14 hours. See how he did in the video!

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