This summer, we lost beloved former AWF Board Member, Sue Wieland. She served on the board from 2000 to 2006, and remained an active supporter and donor to AWF long after her board serviced ended. Sue was known for her generous spirit and big smile and believed passionately in giving back to the community. She is famous for saying, “What you keep you lose and only what you give remains your own.” Thanks to a generous gift from Sue and her husband John in 2006 we annually recognize one of our grantees and their client with the Sue Wieland Embracing Possibility Award.
The Sue Wieland Embracing Possibility Award is a special grant of $20,000 given annually to one of our grantee partner organizations. The selected organization demonstrates an outstanding ability to make a significant impact in the lives of women and girls through their ongoing work and by using an example of one individual that the organization sees as a shining example of their program.
The 2021 Sue Wieland Embracing Possibility Award recipient is Families First and the Shining Example Honoree is Ebony Williams.
For 130 years, Families First has been providing empowering solutions for Atlanta’s most vulnerable population. In 1890, Families First started as an orphanage on the Westside of the city on what is now the Spelman College campus. Today, they are committed to setting up youth for success by young adulthood by providing them with key services to overcome life’s challenges and reach their goals.
Families First recognizes the cycles of poverty are not broken by one program or service alone so they offer a combination of services and supports, build resilient families, and ensure foster and underserved youth are successful and independent by young adulthood. Through their collaborations with community partners, virtual services, and locations throughout the state of Georgia, Families First is able to impact youth and families by providing counseling services, health and wellness education for pregnant teens, early childhood education, life skills for youth in foster care, parenting classes, supportive housing, adoption facilitation and placement, and so much more.
Families First is a partner in AWF’s Promoting Women and Girls’ Mental Health & Wellbeing Project.
My Story by Ebony Williams*
I went to Therrell High school – I was asked to attend their Law & Government program. I graduated high
school as the Salutatorian of my class and was in college when I became pregnant with twins. I left school to parent and then had two more children. Everything started falling apart. I had such bad anxiety and I had a mental breakdown. My situation rapidly declined when I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. We became homeless, moving from friend’s houses to the streets and back, occasionally finding a place in a shelter. I was told by my doctors that the medicine I was on was the only way to control my disorder and it was so severe I would never work again. I had no money and we were totally homeless for over a year before I found Shelter-A-Family at Families First.
The support I get from Shelter-A-Family – especially Ms. Sakina and Monique – has helped me be my best self and be a better mother to my children. The first thing that helped us was just having a safe place to live as a family. I have such good kids. My twins graduated from high school and won scholarships to go to college. Since we were in a home they were able to move on campus and know that me and my two younger sons were safe. My youngest, Carlos, has always done well in school. But while we were homeless, Calik started hanging out with the wrong people. He was getting into gangs and stuff. Once we had a safe place to live he was inspired by his little brother. In just one year he turned things around, he started playing football and he got a college scholarship – the R.E.A.C.H. scholarship when he was just in the 8th grade. Now, he is so good at football, a coach from another school picks him up to take him to high school every day. My oldest kids transferred to Alabama State and Fisk University. But during COVID they came back home – it was hard going away. They are working hard and going back to school soon. They all had to be the parents when I couldn’t be and Families First has helped us with counseling and other support for my kids too so they are learning to deal with the past and learning to be kids.
For me, knowing Families First could help with my medications and let me start to live and do things again was amazing. I took some classes and got my Microsoft Certification. I got an internship and then got hired full time. Based on how good I was doing, Families First recommended me for a car that was donated too. And I have learned how to manage my home, learned how to budget and save and how to be a better parent. More than anything they are there as a support system while I work to keep my mental health in check and be a better mother to my children.
I sometimes have a hard time accepting my diagnoses. I don’t want to be sick. I am smart and can take care of myself. I tried to maybe do too much too fast and wasn’t ready to work full time. But they still helped me. I was able to leave my job, keep my house and keep getting better. That meant so much to me.
Now, I have learned what they have to teach me and shown I can manage my life and my kids. So I am graduating and going to get my own place through the FLOW program. Ms. Sakina and Monique are still going to be there for me (they call it aftercare) even though I won’t live at Shelter-A-Family anymore. I cannot imagine where I would have ended up and where my kids would have ended up if we hadn’t found this place.
I’m part of a community at Shelter-A-Family. When I achieve things the other people here see what I am doing and they want that too. I was in a bad place when I got there and others are too. But if I can do it, so can they. They just have to accept the help. If there is a class, sign up. If there is someone to talk with, go talk to them. I want to be an advocate for women who struggle with mental health and learning to cope when life feels too overwhelming. I also know that when I go out on my own with the FLOW program, my apartment is open so someone who needs it now like we did 3 years ago gets to move in. I want people to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Find those resources and use them. And you can get better.
When I was homeless I was only able to save a few things. I have some pictures and my high school diploma. But now, I have been able to get furniture and Families First helps us with the fun things, like new clothes and Christmas presents. My kids even got college scholarships from them. It may not seem like a lot but all of those little things make our lives so much easier and my kids can focus on their school and I can focus on getting well and learning new skills.
And the staff are just there for me all the time. I can call at 3 AM if something is going on and they will talk to me and help.
It all has made such a difference and I am just so thankful.
*Edited for length.