Gordon Ellis: At the Heart of ACSS’ Mission

ACSS Employment Consultant Director Gordon Ellis

ACSS Employment Consultant Director Gordon Ellis

By Barbara Hughes | ACSS Volunteeer

This is the first in a series of blogs that will profile the ACSS staff.

I love volunteering with ACSS in whatever capacity I can be the most help. I’ve often wondered about the staff. I know them, of course. But what drives them to do what they do every day, often in a difficult environment? The best way to find out was to talk to each one and I thought I would share what they told me about working at ACSS.

Gordon Ellis is ACSS’ Employment Director. But I like to think of him as a force of nature: boundless energy and enthusiasm, brimming with ideas and with an ever-present smile. He sees his role as relationship building, both with prospective employers and with the VIPs (Visionary Innovative Partners) ACSS serves. Mostly, Gordon wants the VIPs to know that they have an advocate.

He came to ACSS via the Fulton County Human Services agency, working on the welfare-to-work program for single moms. On his first day at ACSS, he was thrown in at the deep end by leading his first CareerWorks workshop. But I don’t think that fazed him one bit!

You won’t find Gordon using the word “homeless” to describe the VIPs. He uses terms such as “in transition” or “hitting a speed bump,” but never the “H-word.” His other pet peeve is when a VIP describes him or herself as “just,” as in “just a truck driver” or “just a housekeeper in a hotel.” So the workshops Gordon runs are designed to give the attendees confidence and change their mindset about being a “just.” Mock interviews and resume writing are two components of Gordon’s workshops. He invites local businesses to participate, which lends an air of reality.

He has developed 35 to 40 close business partnerships with local businesses. Many participated in the third annual Job Fair held in February and Gordon described it as a big success. The results are still coming in but he said that right now, 20 to 25 VIPs have secured jobs and several more are still interviewing. This, at the end of the day, is what ACSS is all about: jobs.

Many businesses will be attending the third annual Job Week during the week of May 13th at ACSS’ offices in midtown. Each day will feature an industry, such as security, warehousing, administration and retail. Each business will provide an overview followed by Q&A with the VIPs. The prospective employers provide notes following informal interviews and then official interviews are scheduled.

I asked Gordon what his personal vision for ACSS was. Without hesitation, he said, “to go out of business.” Isn’t that a vision we all can share?

Come join us! Donate. Volunteer. You can help ACSS break the cycle of homelessness.


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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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Cafe 458: It Just Gets Better and Better!

CAF%C3%89-458-BrunchBy Barbara Hughes | ACSS Volunteer

Having had such a wonderful brunch on March 3rd, I was back the following Sunday to sample more of Chef Tiffany’s inventive menu. This time, I brought my nephew Mark who was visiting Georgia for the first time. Like me, Mark is a Yankee from Connecticut and wanted to sample some good Southern food. We agreed that Café 458 was the right place for it.

First, I must congratulate the volunteer wait staff from Emory University. They all were so pleasant and were obviously enjoying themselves. Our server, Joy, lived up to her name.

Mark was over the moon about his shrimp and grits entrée and it did look and smell delicious.  The recipe, from Chef Tiffany’s Grandma Mary, calls for Gouda cheese in the grits and it added just the right touch. The grits were smooth and cooked to perfection.  I decided to try an omelet and it was beautifully prepared.  The vegetables were fresh and it was all completely yummy!

Friends stopped by to meet Mark, including Anthony, Dana and Eric. Everyone knows your name at Café 458!

Café 458 is part of Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency and all proceeds, including tips, support programs that support our mission to end homelessness.

You can make reservations or check out the Cafe 458 menu online.

Serving at Sunday brunches is a great way to enhance the fellowship of church groups, to build teams at work and to experience outreach in our own community.  To volunteer, contact Alison Smith: Alison.Smith@atlantacss.org.

Come on down to Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward and enjoy Café 458’s own special brand of Southern comfort food – with a twist!


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Cafe 458: It’s So Tasty!


Cafe 458 Executive Chef Tiffany Wills

By Barbara Hughes | ACSS Volunteer

The grand re-opening of Café 458’s popular Sunday Brunch more than lived up to expectations last Sunday (March 1st).

Things were bustling in the kitchen where Chef Tiffany Wills kept everything under control, in addition to dishing out some wonderful brunch items.

Church group in Cafe 458's overflow dining area: a great spot for group gatherings.

Church group in Cafe 458’s overflow dining area: a great spot for gatherings.

The renovations that kept Café 458 closed for a while really made a difference to the overall ambience. It was a great idea to expand the dining area into the front room of 458 Edgewood Ave., which is light and bright. But, the overflow dining area was needed, as well, when a church group arrived after services to sample some of the wonderful options that Chef Tiffany and her staff had prepared.

Here is what I loved about the brunch (I’ll get to the food and service later): a diverse group of diners, all happily greeting each other and stopping by tables to spend a little time chatting and socializing. That’s what I’ve always thought the Café was and should be: It’s a great place to meet, socialize, have great food and do good.

The doing good part is because all proceeds, including 100% of the tips, provide funding for the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency’s programs to end homelessness and provide life stabilization opportunities for its clients.

Now, the food! I had the asparagus and sun-dried tomato frittata and a biscuit. And nothing about that dish disappointed me. The coffee was hot and delicious and my cup was refilled several times during my meal. It was beautifully presented and served with great professionalism by a team of volunteers from Georgia Tech (Go Jackets!).

  Cafe 458 guests enjoy a larger, brighter main dining room.

Here is a challenge to other area universities: Gather up your own volunteer team of servers, because you will have a wonderful day. And when it’s done well, as it was on March 1st, the service at Café 458 rivals that of any other bistro at which I have had brunch!

Frankly, I can’t wait to sample the other brunch items on the Café 458 menu next week and on as many Sundays as I can make it to the historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.

You can make reservations online and view the Cafe 458 menu here. To volunteer, contact Alison Smith at: Alison.Smith@atlantacss.org.

Trust me, you will not be disappointed! Fried chicken and waffles anyone?

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Corporate Involvement with ACSS: It’s a Win-Win!

ACSScoaching11By Barbara Hughes/ACSS Volunteer

Do you remember the excitement and panic of your first (or most recent) job interview?  “What will the interviewer ask?”  “Did I do enough preparation?” “What should I wear?”  Do you recall the post-interview doubts and hopefulness?  “Should I send a thank you note?”  “Did I sound confident?”  “Did my resume tell my story?” On February 12th, it all came back to me when I was part of a corporate team, led by InterContinental Hotels Group and Hewlett-Packard, that worked with ACSS CareerWorks Class #28 to prepare for a job fair.

With additional support from AT&T, Elavon and Lexmark staff, we spent about two hours with a group of very enthusiastic and well-prepared job seekers – tweaking resumes and conducting mock interviews.

“I would hire him (or her),” was a common remark made during the interviews.  I agree.  Any one of our ACSS VIPs (Visionary Innovative Partners) would be an asset to a prospective employer.

The success of the morning session flowed both ways.  Our corporate team, as one member remarked, received much more than we gave.  Not only did we all come away with a profound sense of the talent that is available at ACSS, but we saw each other in a different way, as well.

ACSScoaching2In business, we talk a lot about “synergy,” where the sum is greater than the individual parts. Many teams aspire to this goal.  I’m told that the definition of synergy is “2+2=5.” Well, our synergy was at least a ten during our session with the ACSS VIPs.

And we all are looking forward to working with ACSS Business Development Director Gordon Ellis to come up with our next team-building event in about two months’ time.  Meanwhile, our new friends at AT&T are helping with gathering interview clothing for the ACSS Clothing Closet. And many of the IHG/HP team members have exchanged business cards with the VIPs to stay in touch.

Class #28, your new friends are pulling for you at the job fair!

And friends in the business community, if you’re looking for corporate team building opportunities or more information on corporate involvement, please contact Gordon Ellis, Gordon.Ellis@atlantacss.org or Otis Hillsman, VP of Programs, Otis.Hillsman@atlantacss.org.

As someone on our team told me, “This beats bowling any day!”


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Cafe 458 Sunday Brunch Returns March 3: “Eat Well. Do Good.”

By ACSS Volunteer Barbara Hughes

Are you homesick for some of Grannie’s grits ‘n all? Do you long for Mom’s French Toast and all that goes with it? Well, we may not have Mom or Grannie but Café 458 has Chef Tiffany Wills. And starting on Sunday, March 3rd, you can sample her “Southern comfort food with a twist” every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m..

Chef Tiffany has researched past favorites from other Café 458 menus and raided her Grandma Mary’s recipe box to create a new menu with something for everyone.

“It’s all of the recipes that my grandmother cooked for me with a little spin on it,” Wills said. “It’s ingredients that you’re not expecting.”

She’s also created salad and sandwich choices because, as Chef Tiffany told me, people are looking for lighter brunch offerings these days.

In addition to helping themselves to a delicious meal, Cafe 458 patrons are helping to break the cycle of homelessness. Because Cafe 458 has an all volunteer wait staff, all proceeds, including tips (gratefully accepted!), support the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency.

The non-profit organization provides life skills and job-readiness training to individuals who are ready to make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

Located in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward at 458 Edgewood Avenue, Café 458 has been closed for renovations since late spring of 2012. But ACSS Board Member Eric McBride, with a team of volunteers, is on track to have everything shining and ready for the brunch guests at our grand reopening on March 3rd.

For those who have visited Café 458 before, you will notice that brunch is being served in the front of the building, which is more spacious and open.

For more information, “like'” Café 458 on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @cafe458.

Reservations can be made online at cafe458atl.com. And please share with your friends Chef Tiffany’s video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/wi3tRMyaFNc

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Breakfast with Tiffany: Cafe 458’s executive chef introduces exciting new brunch menu

Cafe 458’s popular Sunday Brunch returns March 3, 2013 with an exciting new menu by Chef Tiffany.

It’s open to the general public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and all proceeds (including tips) benefit Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency. Please join us! Menu and online reservations: http://cafe458atl.com

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