Metro Atlanta Families and Organizations Receive $170,000 for Rethinking Educational Options to Meet Students’ and Families’ Needs

JULY 7, 2021 — Atlanta — National nonprofit VELA Education Fund announced today that Metro Atlanta families and organizations will receive $170,000 through Meet the Moment 2.0, a grant program that supports innovative, nontraditional education programs. The funding is spread across 17 grantees, a collection of parents, educators, and community leaders from Alpharetta to McDonough and all around Metro Atlanta who are designing custom education solutions for their communities. 

“This inspiring group of grantees are everyday entrepreneurs who are taking action to ensure children in and around Atlanta have educational opportunities that meet their needs,” said Meredith Olson, VELA’s president. “The pandemic underscored the importance of adaptation, and VELA’s grantees are developing nimble, creative approaches to education that put families in the driver’s seat.” 

The $170,000 in funding to Atlanta-area grantees is part of more than $2.1 million being awarded to 233 recipients across the country. These grantees are developing a range of nontraditional approaches, including microschools, homeschool co-ops, and after-school programs, that reflect how families are rethinking their children’s educational experience. 

During the pandemic, for instance, the number of families in Georgia choosing to homeschool their children more than doubled, with 16% of families with school-aged children reporting homeschooling in fall 2020, according to 2020 US Census data.

This latest round of funding comes after VELA launched the Meet the Moment 1.0 grant program in August 2020 to provide immediate, flexible funding to support the learning needs of families and students in the midst of the pandemic. Atlanta-area educators received grants in this first round of funding as well, including the Zucchinis Homeschool Co-op in downtown Atlanta, which provides students from preschool through 8th-grade with a play-based, culturally responsive educational option. 

New Atlanta-area grantees include:

Jeana Buckner, Twiddle Bugs, Gwinnett County

Jeana Buckner is a Gwinnett County mom whose 5-year-old daughter has level 1 autism. The pandemic severely impacted her daughter when her occupational therapy sessions turned virtual. Therapy was a struggle and her daughter made very little progress. In March, Jeana began searching for camps, schools, daycares, and educational programs that incorporated the in-person therapeutic services her child needs, but she encountered several roadblocks: there was a six-month waitlist for the few existing programs that serve children with autism, the daycares in her area would not accept children with special needs, and the summer camps were not age appropriate (campers for one program ranged from ages 4 to 40). 

After speaking with several moms in the area, Jeana realized they were encountering the same issues and were also afraid of their children regressing over the summer. Jeana turned her fears into action and developed the Twiddle Bugs camp from her nonprofit TwiddleU, a new program to provide young autistic students with age-appropriate speech, occupational, and play therapy as well as yoga, dance, and physical fitness.

Cherelle McKnight, P.O.W.E.R. Academic Strength and Conditioning, Rockdale County

With instruction delivered virtually during the pandemic, many students struggled to progress academically. That’s where Cherelle McKnight comes in. The Conyers resident is a math whiz with expertise in using online tools to teach remotely. “I try as much as possible to dissolve the screen,” she says. McKnight works with students from kindergarten to ninth grade. She uploads read alouds to YouTube, and some of her videos have been viewed more than 230,000 times.

Jacqueline Merrill, His Soul Sanctuary, Gwinnett County

The pandemic exacerbated the challenges faced by the most vulnerable students, which for His Soul Sanctuary are the children in foster care on the verge of aging out of the system. Jacqueline has developed a model that is formulated by the support that a family environment provides. The program will support underserved young adults ages 17-19 who are aging out of the foster care system with earning their high school diploma or GED and learning leadership skills that will support their transition into adulthood. The program’s launch comes after Gov. Kemp signed legislation in May to improve foster care in Georgia. 

Carolyn Seals, Giving in Action, Henry County

More than a decade ago, Carolyn was in her local library when she saw a parent struggling to read a Dr. Seuss book to her child. The experience changed Carolyn’s life. Today, Giving in Action supports both adults and children with literacy skills. Recognizing how many factors can impact a student’s success in school, Carolyn’s nonprofit, Giving in Action, distributes food to families and also has a doctor on staff. Volunteers, including Clayton State University students, help the program reach even more families. “We bring books to families however we can,” Carolyn says. 

These Atlanta-area recipients were chosen from more than 500 applications that VELA received. Applicants came from 47 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. More than 50 percent of applicants and grantees identify as people of color. 

“We are impressed by the ideas that caught fire during the pandemic and by the humanity that everyday entrepreneurs are bringing back to education,” said Olson, VELA Education Fund President. “VELA’s Meet the Moment 2.0 investment will help to sustain and expand this innovative education movement going forward.”

Please contact Lisa Cohen if you are interested in a story on these education innovations in Metro Atlanta. 

About VELA Education Fund

VELA Education Fund is an independent national nonprofit that invests in nontraditional education innovations that meet the needs of learners and families. VELA partners with organizations and communities to administer grants to eligible individuals and organizations that are innovating outside of the traditional education system. VELA connects its grantees to a national network and provides them with a platform to elevate their work and learning. Through Meet the Moment 1.0, VELA worked with five partners to distribute more than $2.7 million to 450 grantees, who were located in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Together, the Meet the Moment 1.0 grantees impacted more than 225,000 children and families.