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Neighborhood Clusters Tackle Atlanta's Ills

September 12, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK

ATLANTA — In the Fulton district of southeast Atlanta, the buildings of a once-thriving industrial area stand empty. But the hopelessness in the neighborhoods that relied on those businesses for jobs is dissipating as residents start job programs, improve their homes and help build housing developments.

More than a dozen other Atlanta neighborhoods are beginning to empower themselves with help from the two-year-old Atlanta Project, former President Jimmy Carter's plan to tackle numerous issues affecting the poor, from illiteracy to housing and jobs to inadequate health care.

"The Atlanta Project has established a vehicle to share information and resources," said Thelma Malone, leader of the project's Fulton cluster group. "There were resources, but people didn't know how to access (them). They didn't know where to go or how to get help."

Carter wants to take his approach to other cities, starting with Los Angeles. In December, Carter and then RLA Co-chairman Peter V. Ueberroth met with President Clinton to suggest new approaches to inner-city problems. But so far, RLA has set no formal plans to implement the Atlanta Project's methods here.

RLA officials said they are exchanging ideas with representatives from the Atlanta Project, but will keep to RLA's focus of getting businesses to invest in the inner city.

The Atlanta Project has targeted that city's most disenfranchised communities, creating 20 "cluster" neighborhoods organized around high school districts. Each cluster includes about 25,000 residents who live in neighborhoods that face some of the most nation's most distressing urban problems.

The cluster groups set their own goals, which may include cleaning up neighborhoods, starting after-school or day care for poor working parents or trying to rid their areas of drugs. With the help of volunteer staff members and corporate partners, the groups map out a strategy.

The Atlanta Project also has been able to tap some of the nation's largest corporations for about $32 million in donations and grants.

"Atlanta Project's basic thrust is to empower poor people to take control of their own destinies while trying to change how the overall system affects the underserved," said Elise Eplin, the Carnegie Foundation's project manager for the Carter Center in Atlanta.

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