22 May A Milestone of Service
On June 8, 1981, a new nonprofit organization named Georgia CHARLEE opened its doors to fill gaps in the foster care system. Georgia CHARLEE – now known as CHRIS 180 – was organized by a purpose-driven group of women from The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA), who saw a need for a safe, stable, environment for youth in foster care.
“At the time, we were so concerned about foster children who were literally getting tossed around from home to home,” said JLA Past President Ann Cramer, who serves on CHRIS 180’s Advisory Board. “The whole idea was to have a home for these children to live with family-care parents as they are a real family.
While developing the organization, JLA’s community research group examined foster care programs across the nation to find effective programs that could serve as a model for Georgia CHARLEE, and partnered with the Menninger Foundation, located in Kansas. Thanks to the hard work of JLA members, led by Jewel Norman, they were able to find a house to be home for their first family for six children in foster care. It became the state of Georgia’s first specialized group home in a neighborhood for children and youth with behavioral and emotional challenges who struggled to thrive in traditional foster homes.
“I was a former social worker and had dealt with the pain and trauma of children who had moved from home to home,” shared longtime JLA & CHRIS 180 Advisory Board member, Alice Ball. “I saw how many of them never healed and never became who they really could be. And so, for this project, I was all in and have been ever since.”
Members of the JLA also met with neighbors who had concerns about the home and its location in their neighborhood.
“It was a nice, affordable house with room for the family, a yard, in a nice neighborhood with great schools. We had certain criteria,” Cramer said. “But some of the neighbors were not so happy. And so, we had meetings in the homes of these neighbors, explaining that these children are precious children just like ours. And the only problem is that their parents are not able to care for them at this time. So, what we wanted for every child was to have a safe place to live.”
Today, CHRIS 180 specialized foster care program has grown to have multiple homes throughout Metro Atlanta serving children who are often running out of options, after being moved from place to place, and are searching for stability and a place to call home. Over the years, wraparound programs have been added to support children and families so that they can stay together in their own homes and to support the re-unification process when children return to their families or are adopted into a forever family.
“It’s about caring for the child, but also caring about his or her family,” said Bobbi Cleveland, a longtime JLA member. “Kids belong with their families.”
Over the years, CHRIS 180 has been a proven leader in the state’s child-welfare system, advocating for the rights of those without a voice.
“Addressing public policy at the state level has been just as important as building up the organization itself,” Cleveland said. “Training not only your staff but providing training for the staff of other providers. Working with departments and the legislature to get better support for organizations – not just CHRIS 180 – that serve these young people.”
CHRIS 180 was one of the first organizations to introduce others to the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the trauma-informed response needed to work with children who had experienced trauma and help them work through challenges.
Thanks to the incredible determination of women pivotal to the founding of CHRIS 180, more than 100,000 lives have been changed in the past 40 years. CHRIS 180 has grown to fill gaps in our community through trauma-informed therapy and counseling services, community programs including wraparound support, foster care, adoptions, safe homes for youth and families and working with residents and partners to build healthier, more resilient communities.
“It’s been my pleasure to watch how this organization has grown, “Ball shared. “It’s fulfilled a dream that I’ve always had for children: that they are in a home where they are wanted.”
CHRIS 180 would not exist without the women of the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. As we celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we thank them – volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, who continue to lift up our work to heal children, strengthen families and build communities.
To honor our founders and those who have supported us since 1981, we have launched our 40 for More fundraising campaign to celebrate our anniversary.
Thanks to the generosity of women pivotal to the founding of CHRIS 180, every gift up to $10,000 made by midnight on June 8, our 40th Anniversary, will be matched dollar-for-dollar!
A gift of $100 becomes $200 to feed 40 young adults experiencing homelessness, $50 becomes $100 to provide a new coat, hat and scarf for a child in a CHRIS 180 foster home and $25 become $50 to provide a night of housing for youth experiencing homelessness.
To make a gift in honor of our milestone anniversary, click here.