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TAP: The Power of a Project

By Jimmy Carter

This article appeared in the Oct. 18, 1995 edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

When The Atlanta Project (TAP) was founded, The Carter Center took a risk in establishing an innovative program to help disenfranchised citizens solve some of their own problems.

We created a structure of cluster communities and announced that TAP was in the business of tackling teenage pregnancy, high dropout rates, low immunization rates, lack of affordable housing and other issues. We were bold and ambitious. Four years later, I am heartened by the energy and resources that have been brought to bear on this massive undertaking.

There is much yet to do. Some of the initial expectations for alleviating serious social ills within five years were unrealistic. But we have made significant progress. The Atlanta Project was created not to be another service provider but to bring existing groups together to address complex problems.

Unprecedented partnerships have been created among the business community, our urban neighborhoods, and colleges and universities. Not only does the business community support the project financially, but it also provides loaned executives to work with community teams on a day-to-day basis to tackle local problems.

Working in communities is at the heart of our mission. When we first launched TAP, we had thousands of volunteers poised to enter neighborhoods to help. But we realized that first we had to ask the residents what they wanted. As TAP has evolved, the resident voice has become the backbone of the organization. Residents have formed steering committees and developed plans to address the issues most important to them.

I have seen ideas developed by cluster residents evolve into self-sustaining, financially independent programs to serve local needs. When tax credits for businesses requested by city residents paved the way for a car-seat manufacturer to move into the Forest Park Cluster and employ local citizens, lives were changed.

When seven government agencies agreed to work together to streamline the federal assistance application process in Atlanta, and 64 pages of forms were whittled into one eight-page application, I know that TAP's role as facilitator has been effective.

When residents said they wanted to know how to clean up their streets, they worked with TAP to develop a simple code-enforcement leaflet to inform neighbors of their rights. When City Hall tells us that code violations are being reported in record numbers, we know that we are on the right track.

When thousands of our poorest citizens have their own checking accounts and deal with bank partners instead of loan sharks, this is real progress. The changes being made through the efforts of TAP are not quick fixes, but they are tangible and worthwhile.

Over the past five months, The Atlanta Project team and hundreds of community residents and leaders have met to offer recommendations for the project's next phase, which will begin in the fall of 1996. It is clear that we will need to make some changes, but one message we have heard loud and clear from the numerous people involved with TAP is that it must go on. And indeed it will.

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