One of the most respected non-profits in our area is the Community Assistance Center (CAC), which works to prevent homelessness, alleviate hunger and promote self-sufficiency in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
Founded by ten local congregations in 1987 as the Community Action Center, CAC was initially run mainly by volunteers out of a church Scout. Tamara Carrera became its part-time CEO in 1997. That year, CAC served 280 families with a $24,000 annual budget. In 2021, CAC helped 5,600 individuals and saved 856 families from eviction, with a total of 24,000 households helped since 1987.
As a former board member, I knew Tamara. When she announced she would retire in 2021, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could fill her shoes. I was wrong.
Her successor, CEO Francis Horton, took over in February 2021, after spending more than 30 years leading international relief programs helping families in some of the poorest countries in world. How could a newcomer even with his credentials follow in her footsteps when he was new to the area, had few connections and most of his staff were still working from home?
“We’re approaching 35 years. We’ve gone from 400 square feet to four operating sites,” he said. “Tamara was a visionary and a good operations person. It was a bit intimidating, but I was a great beneficiary of what she had built.”
He admitted that starting the new job without being able to meet with people in-person had some advantages.
“I didn’t have the advantage of pulling a team together in a room,” he said, “but it was beneficial in that it slowed things down a bit and gave me more time to learn.”
On paper, his international experience had little in common with the local services of CAC. Operating in places with widespread poverty and limited resources, he was accustomed to leading large community development projects to improve water, education, healthcare and farming – including a fish farm in Pakistan.
However, pointing out that a minimum of 20,000 people in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody live in poverty despite our developed infrastructure, he found the needs of the people served by CAC similar to those of the people he had served internationally.
“People are people. Their needs are the same everywhere,” he said. “A mother wakes up in Sandy Springs and wonders if she can feed and educate her kids, keep them safe. A woman in Bangladesh has the same concerns, but they look different.”
He has, however, had some surprises.
“What I didn’t expect was the level of dedication of the volunteers,” he said. “This year we gave a 25-year volunteer award and five or six 20-year awards.”
In less than two years, Horton has already enriched client services by supporting creation of the Career Center to provide comprehensive mentoring and guidance to jobseekers, including those outside Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
For more, including what I learned during a recent tour, please click the QR code.