ATLANTA – Unemployment has hit record lows, but for those fighting to escape poverty, finding and keeping a job can be no less difficult. Even housing called “affordable” may not be. Helping Atlanta’s working poor overcome these challenges is alumnus Chris Ferguson, development manager for the Midtown Assistance Center (MAC) in Atlanta.
Ferguson has raised money for the nonprofit and worked one-on-one with its clients since 2018. Founded in 1986 and currently supported by 11 congregations, as well as the Midtown Alliance, it helps the working poor find stability during temporary financial crises.
In his role, Ferguson identifies and contacts funders including businesses, foundations, individuals, government entities and volunteers. He and the rest of the seven-member staff at MAC also work the phones each day, taking calls from people in need of assistance with rent, utilities, food, work clothing, tools or public transportation.
Ferguson said he was drawn to social work “by the need to work for a bigger purpose than just bringing home a paycheck.” He joined the center from the Atlanta Community Food Bank, where he spent almost six years coordinating education and outreach programs and managing corporate relations.
At MAC, “we prioritize answering the phones,” he said. “We serve 10 zip codes in metro Atlanta, and calls tend to spike during cold weather. Someone might need an emergency utility payment, or warm clothing for an outdoor job, or transportation to an interview. Thanks to our donors, we’re able to provide them with that ‘last-mile’ help in keeping a job or a home. We’re all about breaking down the barriers keeping them from a stable existence.
“For example, we helped a woman who had gotten behind in her rent,” he said. “She could pay some of it but fell further and further behind due to monthly late fees. It was important to her to stay in that home so her child could remain in a good school. We were able to work with the landlord and help her catch up on rent so she could pay in full each month from then on.”
An Atlanta native, Ferguson still values his connections with the Andrew Young School. While at the Food Bank, he partnered with a class taught by Fred Brooks, an associate professor in the School of Social Work. As a class project, the students produced a video for one of the organization’s donors.
He has also hired many AYS students as interns over the years, including current intern Anique Roberts (B.S.W. ’20) who works directly with the Assistance Center’s clients to provide services.
“Having the opportunity to meet and work with these student interns is really inspiring,” Ferguson said. “I’ve seen a number of them go on to leadership positions at other nonprofits and in other cities. It’s important to pass on the significance of this work to younger generations, and I very much value the ability to do that for Andrew Young school students.”
Story by Alison Tyrer