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. In 1937, we went on to become the first licensed adoption agency in the state of Georgia. In 1964, we opened the first group home (now called cooperatives) for young people in the state, and in 1989 we developed a curriculum that more than 200 communities across the country use to help divorcing parents learn how to co-parent their children. Now, we 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.
We recognize the cycles of poverty are not broken by one program or service alone so we offer a combination of services and supports build resilient families and ensure foster and underserved youth are successful and independent by young adulthood. Through our 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.
130 Years of Impact
Children enjoy recess outside the first home of the Leonard Street Orphans’ Home for Colored Girls.
In 1890, The Leonard Street Orphans’ Home was founded by Lucetta M. Lawson and Sarah L. Grant. It was a turbulent time in Atlanta’s history. Then, as now, children and families suffered from the pressures of poverty, dislocation, and bewildering social change. Only 45% of American workers earned yearly wages above the “poverty line” of $500.
This excerpt from the charter petition describes the purpose of the Leonard Street Orphanage: “…to train and take care of needy, colored girls who are orphans or have neither parents nor other relatives able to provide for them.” – September 12, 1890.
In 1907, Mrs. Laura Robinson attended a court hearing where a young mother was sentenced to jail. It was there that Mrs. Laura Robinson saw how worried the mother was about her child while she was going to be incarcerated. Laura took the child into her home and thus, Atlanta Child’s Home was born. Read more information about the history of the Atlanta Child’s Home.
Laura’s husband, Frank Mason Robinson, a civic leader and the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Coca-Cola Company, supported his wife’s efforts and was proud of her leadership. Incidentally, Mr. Robinson is credited with designing the Coca-Cola logo, which today is internationally recognized. The work of Laura Robinson is reflected in a number of agencies, including the Florence Crittenton Home, the Home for the Friendless (now Hillside Hospital) and the Child Welfare Association.
In 1930, the Child Welfare Association (made up from the merging of the Leonard Street Orphans’ Home and the Atlanta Child’s Home) was organized to strengthen work with children and to develop a system of foster parenting. These roots are reflected today in the specialized foster homes, group homes, adoption services and family preservation programs at Families First.
In 1936, Florence Van Sickler, of Miami, was hired as the Child Welfare Association’s Executive Secretary and was given leadership responsibilities for the development of the newly emerging adoption program. In 1937, the adoption program was officially up and running which made the Child Welfare Association the first private adoption agency in the state of Georgia.
Florence was very well known and appreciated for her work from 1936-1948. She was nationally recognized by the Child Welfare League of America and the National Conference of Social Welfare. Locally in 1946, she was named Woman of the Year in Social Welfare.
In the early 1940’s, “cottage plans,” or group homes were popping up across the country to take in troubled youth. In February 1962, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to establish a group home for troubled boys in Georgia.
As a result of several struggles with zoning issues, neighbors who didn’t support the idea, and a lack of funding, the Board turned the idea to a home for girls. That was much more well-received than the boys home. In February 1967, located on 10th street adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, the 10th Street Home for girls was opened.
Mr. and Mrs. David W. Kenniston were hired as group home parents. and stayed there for six years. During that time, they bonded with the girls, helped them with everyday needs and advice, and provided them with love and support. So much so, that years after they left, they were contacted by one girl to help with her wedding plans and another called to see if they would stand in as “parents of the bride”.
In the late 80’s there was a social change across the US. Young married couples with children were divorcing at an alarming rate. The CDC released a report on March 22, 1995 that showed the severe trends of divorce in families with children.
This climb of young parents trying to raise children in the midst of divorce proved there was a need for a curriculum that helped children learn how to cope with divorce. Children were depressed, rebellious and anxious and parents didn’t know what to do.
In 1989 Families First introduced the court-ordered “Children Cope with Divorce” program to help children and families learn how to cope with a separation of parents. If parents go to get divorced, the court will mandate (in some states) to attend a co-parenting class for the family. To date, more than 200 communities across the US have utilized this curriculum.
Imagine being a young mother and not being able to find shelter for you and your child. Many women deal with this struggle on a daily basis and Families First is able to help. In 1991, the Family Development Center (now Weaver Gardens) was opened to provide supportive housing for mothers, ages 17-26 who were previously homeless and have one child under the age of 12 months.
This program provides young mothers and their babies a safe place to live; training and support in critical areas such as parenting skills, relationship building, child development, health and nutrition and life-skills. The goal of Weaver Gardens is to enhance the mothers parenting skills and life skills, and to develop long-term economic independence. The home is named after Bert Weaver, former Executive Director of Families First, and his vision to create the first ever supportive housing facility for young, homeless mothers in the US.
Thanks to a successful service and mission delivery, we outgrew our main office in Midtown. In the Fall of 2014, we launched the successful Family Matters Capital Campaign to raise $13.3 million to purchase and renovate the former E. R. Carter school in the Westside. In Summer of 2016, we moved into our new home! We’re a short distance from the Atlanta University Center and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and across the street from the Ashby Marta station, making us more easily accessible to our clients and the community.
In 2018, we’re working to focus on setting up youth for independence and success by young adulthood by providing them with mental health support, mentorship, early education, and supportive housing and strengthening their families no matter what challenges they may be facing.
By implementing solutions within these areas, we are able to meet youth at any stage of their life to ensure success and self-sufficiency
Our mission is to build resilient families so all children can thrive.