Five social work students from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies took their skills to the community when they founded the Fulton Effect program at the Frank McClarin High School, an alternative school in south Fulton County in metro Atlanta, last January. The semester-long biweekly mentoring program for homeless youth ages 16-18 was developed by the graduate students in lieu of doing a traditional master’s thesis.
The Fulton Effect enables students to receive academic support and provides them with neutral adult mentors, comprised of professionals from all over the Atlanta metro area, that they could talk to and ultimately develop a sense of trust. It was developed in conjunction with Standup for Kids, the Fulton County Schools homeless liaison and a social worker at McClarin.
“We met half an hour during the students’ lunch period every other Monday,” says Lauren Jones, one of the coordinators of the program. “We talked to the students about their grades, attendance, testing strategies, job searches and post-high school plans.”
“It was important for them to feel comfortable about talking with other adults,” says Jones, who upon receiving her M.S.W. in May went to work for the DeKalb County Juvenile Courthouse Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program.
Mentors in the Fulton Effect program assist students in learning how to build their resumes, techniques for taking the SAT and ACT exams and how to apply for college. They also assist students with securing state identification, which many of them did not have.
The biweekly lunch sessions were made possible by food donations from local vendors. Students were also provided with MARTA cards, necessity bags with clothing and food and a $50 Walmart gift card to use to purchase essential items. All items were made possible by donations The Fulton Effect team solicited from local merchants.
The School of Social Work at Georgia State University has a concentration in community partnerships, which inspired the students to create The Fulton Effect.
“The community focus was a priority,” says Paula Wilson, another program coordinator. “None of us had experience, so building the program from the ground up was challenging and rewarding at the same time. Just deciding on the name was a big deal, and we did not anticipate all of the little details that came up.”
Both Wilson and Jones agreed that one of the major issues in working with the students was attendance. Many of these students face challenges such as parenting responsibilities, lack of transportation, or even the absence of an alarm clock.
“Most of the students (served) are couch surfers,” says Jones. “They move from place to place, living with family members and friends.” She says that a lot of homeless youth are also emancipated, having proved to the courts they can live on their own.
Jones and Wilson recruited one of the mentors, retired veteran Ralph Hendrix, to continue The Fulton Effect at McClarin. “Ralph displayed outstanding leadership and commitment to the program as a volunteer mentor,” says Wilson. “We are excited he is on board.”
Wilson says that StandUp for Kids is looking to adopt the program and launch it at Banneker and Tri-Cities high schools, also located in South Fulton County.