Misty Fernandez, Charitable Giving, Georgia Power Foundation

Georgia Power Foundation’s Misty Fernandez, right, with teacher José Osorio who inspired the idea for the Learning Nook.

Georgia Power Foundation’s Misty Fernandez, right, with teacher José Osorio who inspired the idea for the Learning Nook.

Texas native and Mexican-American Misty Fernandez is an 18-year veteran of Georgia Power Company, having started her career while still in college at Oglethorpe University. After going to class during the day, she worked nights at the customer care center as the company grew its Hispanic outreach. With a degree in chemistry and mathematics, she pivoted within the company to the environmental affairs organization, working in environmental regulatory compliance. In 2017, Misty shifted to the Georgia Power Foundation, where she now works in charitable giving. It’s in this role that she came to learn about the Sara J. González Park and helped conceive of the idea of the first Learning Nook to be inaugurated in an Atlanta city park. The Nook is fully funded by the Georgia Power Foundation and was inspired by former Bolton Academy ESOL Teacher José Manuel Osorio, who shared how he would hold after-school tutoring sessions at the park using folding chairs and a table. Now students and others in the community will be able to study at the Nook under a custom fabricated metal pergola structure, which features seating for 15 including wheelchairs, an oversize permanent desk and electricity to power laptops and other devices. The Nook debuts December 2018.

Isabel González Whitaker: Where did you first learn about social impact?

Misty Fernandez: As the daughter of an immigrant father and a migrant family, I grew up with a strong work ethic. My values were clear and deeply embedded – do good and give back. When we arrived in Atlanta in the 1980’s, the Hispanic/Latino population was small, but growing, as were the needs of the community. The Hispanic/Latino community was also dispersed, making it was difficult to organize efforts and make a measurable impact. My work in the community accelerated when I joined Georgia Power, whose focus on the community helped me align my work with my personal passion for helping others to make a greater impact.  

IGW: What was growing up in Atlanta like for you and how did it shape your view of diversity?

Fernandez: I was lucky in that my childhood was split across two communities. I had the opportunity to grow up in an all African-American community for a couple of years during my childhood and then spent a couple of years growing up in an all-Caucasian community. The exposure to both communities gave me a deeper understanding of diversity. It wasn’t until my college experience at Baylor University (Texas) that I learned to be a ‘Latina’ and I reconnected with my Hispanic roots. By the time I moved back to Georgia and finished my studies at Oglethorpe, I was more than ready to start working in my community. Through my experiences, I have found that we have more in common than not, and that every community wants the best for the next generations to come.

IGW: What do you think makes Atlanta unique when it comes to diversity?

Fernandez: Atlanta is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, which gives it a unique history and culture. Those of us from newer minority groups who migrated to Atlanta know that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, to whom we are incredibly grateful and have much to learn from. As I mentioned earlier, our Hispanic/Latino community in Atlanta is still young – we are beginning to see the first and second generations of Hispanics/Latinos establish themselves as professionals and community leaders. It’s an exciting time to be serving the community to ensure that our future generations thrive.

IGW: How do you see a park like the Sara J. González Park advancing our community in Atlanta?

Fernandez:  I grew up in neighborhoods that didn’t have easy access to green spaces, parks and recreational activities. We had to go out of our way to find them, which was often difficult for us because of our parents’ work schedules along with transportation challenges – common issues in underserved areas. This park is serving an underrepresented community and will do more than provide a green space. It caters to families of all abilities and offers a space for community partners to provide families with needed resources and support. It reminds us of what is possible when we work together as a collective community. I am very proud to be a part of it.


Herbert Ames, Senior Vice President, EDENS, and sara J. González Capital investor

Ames and son Witt.

Ames and son Witt.

For Buckhead resident and retail developer Herbert Ames, the pursuit of community and commerce are not mutually exclusive endeavors. "It's incumbent on all of us to make sure that we create places that inspire connectivity and community, and do the best we can in that regard," says Ames, who is the Senior Vice President of Southeast Development for EDENS, the 50-year-old retail real estate owner, operator and developer with $6.5B in assets.

Ames, who has worked for EDENS for 15 years, oversees much of the community engagement, growth and strategy for the development and redevelopment of retailers representing 2.1M square feet of retail space including the new Moores Mills Shopping Center at Bolton and Moores Mill Roads.

In 2014, Ames moved with his family from his home state of South Carolina to Atlanta to open the shopping center and help lead efforts in the region including eleven other assets within the City of Atlanta.

An early supporter of the Sara J. González Park, Ames also serves as Treasurer of the Buckhead Community Improvement District where he's focused on livability and transportation infrastructure including support for a future park above Georgia 400.

Ames comes by community enrichment naturally: his father and great grandfather, after whom he was named, were both elected county officials in South Carolina and dedicated public servants, and his mother, a former teacher, "always does more for others than she does for herself."

Isabel González Whitaker: Tell us about stewardship as a core value for your work at EDENS and how has that value surfaced more in recent years in retail?

Herbert Ames: More than ever, retail places have to have a deeper story, a deeper connection to the communities that they serve. It's a major shift that we’ve seen occur in retail in the past five to ten years. Frankly we think it’s going to change even more in the years to come. Creating a place that is reflective of the community, that serves a need, that provides unique partnerships is very important. Whether it’s a grocery store coming into a food desert like we have here at Moores Mill or partnering with the Sara J. González Park and the City of Atlanta on the improvements to the park, it's about making this node an important part of the community. We've got to look at those human connections a little bit differently nowadays, and fortunately people want that. That’s a big part of what we look at every day, specifically how does what we do tie back to community. And how is this better in the long run for what’s happening in that particular part of the world.

IGW: What drew EDENS to the Upper Westside?

Ames: We saw there was a void from a retail perspective in an area with residential growth, but also once you start peeling things back you see a neighborhood that's very diverse. And that's exciting. There are these western portions of Buckhead and also really great neighborhoods around Bolton and all along Marietta Boulevard. Plus, you have this industrial area that’s been transitioning for quite some time with outmoded industrial tracks and warehousing being reimagined for new neighborhoods. It’s also a gateway into the city of Atlanta as you cross the Chattahoochee coming from Cobb County. All of these things together created this moment where this previously underserved shopping center sat that was a real opportunity to bring all of this diversity together in one place. You see that today when you walk the site.  You see it with the folks that are playing in the park, and hopefully, as we move forward with a phase to bring residential in and additional retail, you’ll see that reflected there as well.

IGW: How do you see the park playing into what's happening in this changing neighborhood?

Ames: It's impactful and special to be a part of it. To be able to become a partner in a park that is so representative of the diversity that exists in this neighborhood as well as for what I now know what Sara González stood for just makes that even more gratifying to be a part of. 

IGW: What do parks mean to you?

Ames: Parks are good at bringing people together, at bringing new neighbors together to strike up conversations, and that sense constitutes some of my own personal memories of growing up and going to parks in my hometown as a child and now also as I look to my son and how we experience parks. Globally parks are there to bring people together, and I think we could use a lot more of that today than maybe any point of time in our history. 



Ricardo Miguel Martinez, Founder and Managing Director, Atlanta's adhoc agency, and Sara J. González Park patron

Ricardo with partner Norelie Garcia and their son Pascual Miguel.

Ricardo with partner Norelie Garcia and their son Pascual Miguel.

Ricardo Miguel Martinez came to the United States from Mexico at the age of five, in order to be with his mother, who had resettled a year earlier to provide a better life for herself and her children. For 25 years, Ricardo's mother worked at a poultry factory in northeast Texas, where the family lived. Through the factory's employee programs, she took English classes, got her GED, and eventually earned a bachelor's degree, graduating with honors. 

"She was a strong woman and a strong mother figure in our lives," recalls Martinez, who now owns his own marketing and brand agency in Atlanta and is a father of one with another on the way. "Education was always so important to her and she fought for our right to get a good education, because she knew the value of what it could provide in terms of opportunities." 

Despite that emphasis, as a young teen Ricardo considered postponing his education to work at the poultry factory to help his mother buy their first home. His mother wouldn't allow it—they eventually received the first Habitat for Humanity home built in the region—and Ricardo graduated in the top ten percent of his class, going on to Texas A&M University while also serving in the Texas Army National Guard. After becoming the first in his family to graduate from college, he went on to work for the MLS team FC Dallas, where he built the first fully integrated Latino sports department for a professional sports team in the United States. In 2012, he brought his sports marketing talents to Atlanta to manage the Home Deport Sports Portfolio. He launched adhoc, his own sports and lifestyle brand agency, two years ago with a focus on purpose-driven marketing.

"I’ve been told that I can run my own business since I was 15, but I also knew that I was at a disadvantage because of where I come from, my poverty and all these other factors that can pigeonhole you and influence whether you’re going to be successful or not," says Martinez who last year was a contestant on CNBC's business show “The Partner” with Marcus Lemonis. "It was pure willpower and the strong women in my life that have given me the courage and confidence to accept the challenge of building my own company."

Isabel González Whitaker: What are some of your earliest memories of community growing up?

Ricardo Miguel Martinez: When we came to the United States, we didn’t know anybody. But as we found our footing the thing that made it feel like home was that the Latino community where we were was very close, because they, too, only had each other and their language and their culture and their traditions. We gathered around our pillars, which were education, religion and work.

IGW: Not all but a lot of your work seems to focus on the Latinx community. What does this community mean to you?

RMM: I was forged by my Latinx community in Northeast Texas. My family received the very first Habitat for Humanity home in the region. It was built by our community: it was built by our church community; it was built by our school community; it was built by our business community. It allowed me to be here right now.

IGW: What does the Latinx community mean to you in Atlanta specifically?

RMM: I see people across communities and sectors trying to be diverse and inclusive and we are part of that movement. I see Atlanta as a great opportunity for someone who wants to make an impact, who wants to be involved in this community.

IGW: How does the Sara J. González Park play into the Atlanta cultural landscape?

RMM: I see the park being the centerpiece of the diversity and inclusion conversation by setting the new standard. I see other cities and states in the future making a pilgrimage here to see how a park in the South can change the way a neighborhood interacts with its community. I see Atlanta continuing to be unafraid in its fight to truly be a diverse and inclusive city. Atlanta is now always in the forefront of the diversity and inclusion conversation. And if we have anything to say with that, I think we’d like to be ahead of the pack. I think we want to set new standards. Professionally, I play in and around of what’s the newest and best for my clients like the Atlanta Hawks, and from an adhoc agency perspective I have to stay abreast of trends. The Sara J. González Park is doing something most neighborhoods and cities have never done: leveraging a common space to bring services and tools to literally level the playing field for a community.

IGW: How do you see the park impacting the future? 

RMM: Imagine what those kids that are growing up in that environment can achieve if you give them the tools and also contribute back to their communities. You get something that sounds and looks a lot like what I sound and look like. And I would ask to take it further: imagine a world where you have a bunch of selfless people trying to help the next generation and take ownership of common spaces because they know what that can yield. I think it’s exciting and I want to be a part of that and I see it as my duty to be a part of that.

IGW: Your mother passed a few years ago, as did mine. What's your mom’s legacy?

RMM: Before she passed, my mother made me promise to stay in Atlanta for two years. I don't know why she picked two years, but I obliged and within those two years I helped lead the Atlanta United launch and I met my life partner. So I am forever grateful for that. Also, long before she passed she had become a very successful bilingual dyslexia teacher and advocate at the elementary school I had attended. She used to say, "Dedicate every waking moment to education and educating yourself, because every now and then someone will come along and try to take everything away from you. And it’s fine that they do, and they can strip you of all your possessions and all your things, but they’ll never be able to take what’s in your heart and what’s in your head."

District 9 Council member Dustin Hillis

Councilmember Hon. Hillis, second from left, at the Park groundbreaking in May.

Councilmember Hon. Hillis, second from left, at the Park groundbreaking in May.

Until this summer, Councilmember Dustin Hillis had worked for five years at Emory University Hospital as an ICU nurse in the Neuroscience Unit, and for a short stint, in the Serious Communicable Disease Unit caring for the first Ebola Virus Disease patients to be treated in the U.S..  Originally from Tennessee, Hillis has lived in the Riverside neighborhood since 2011 and developed a reputation for his dedication to cleaning up blighted properties in the area through working with code enforcement. He's a new Councilmember, serving his first term this year, but it's not his only first this year: He's also a new dad to a ten-month-old, which explains his departure from Emory. "I hung up my hat there, " says Hillis. "I want to be able to dedicate more time to my job at the city, and I want to spend more time with my son."

Isabel González Whitaker: Congrats on growing your family! What makes you excited about raising your son here? What's exciting about this district?

Dustin Hillis: The community surrounding the park is definitely on the upswing, whether we’re talking about Bolton, Ridgewood Heights, or Riverside. There are several more developments coming both commercial and residential to that area as well as many of the other great neighborhoods in District 9, so I’m looking forward to having more people and more opportunities to work, shop, eat, and play in your own neighborhood.

IGW: What are some of the concerns of your constituents as the neighborhood changes and grows?

Hillis: The one I hear about the most is definitely the traffic, which in a big city that’s always going to be an issue.  So there’s lots of improvement to be made there as we look to expand transit and improve out mobility options, whether that is roads, sidewalks, trails.  Affordable housing is definitely a concern. There are probably two or three multifamily apartment complexes very near the park that would be considered affordable, but the question is what is really going to happen to those in the future as the surrounding area continues to develop and become less affordable? What is going to happen to those affordable housing opportunities? We have to protect the affordable housing we have and even look to expand those offerings.

IGW: Why does truly affordable housing matter in a community like this?

Hillis: We have a new grocery store across the street from the park, and since then the area has really taken off. There are going to be more restaurants and more retail, so where are the people that work there going to live? I’m a strong believer in you should live where you work and you should work where you live. Many people, whether it’s teachers, police officers, firefighters, or other service workers, they usually can’t afford to live in the city unfortunately, so they live in the suburbs and that contributes to the traffic problem.  It serves us all well when we have all types and all prices of housing incorporated into our communities. People who protect, serve, and teach our communities should be able to live in them.

IGW: How diverse is our community here?

Hillis: Every councilmember likes to claim this, but District 9is truly representative of the city as a whole.  The northern part is part of Buckhead and more economically advantaged. The center of the district is mixed races and ethnicities-Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and more-and very mixed income with a strong middle class. The southern part of the district is majority African-American with some mix of income, but a lot of economically disadvantaged. Bolton Academy is an Atlanta Public School that serves the area around the park, and it really reflects the mixed demographics of the area. It is roughly 1/3 each of African -American, Causasion, and Hispanic. The school has really come a long way over the past decade or so thanks to parental involvement, and the school even has an International Baccalaureate program and a dual language immersion program. We are excited to send our son there when he gets older.

IGW: What does the Sara J. González Park mean to the district?

Hillis: We are fortunate to have a number of parks in the area, but this is the only ADA-compliant one I am aware of. As far as the park's namesake, the park has given us the opportunity to recognize that we’ve had some historic Latinos in Atlanta who have led the way and fought for a better community here in the city as well.

IGW: Where do you see the district in the next five years?

Hillis: I’m hoping for a much more robust district that serves the residents well where they can live, work, shop, and play in their own communities.  Before the Publix was built, my family had to go shopping in Cobb County. Not only was that a further drive but also meant that I was spending my tax dollars in Cobb County, which was not helping my community in any way.  A lot of the growth coming up over the next five years will not only be in the northern half of the district but also the southern half of the district, the Donald Lee Hollowell corridor.  Redevelopment and improvement of that corridor is one of my top priorities I will be working on. We’re looking forward to working hard to get rid of the food desert there. There’s also so much vacant land and underdeveloped land in the district, so it will be one of the main areas the city will look to expand. Some of the most exciting things I’m looking forward to are more parks and trails coming to the area.  We just had the ribbon cutting on the Proctor Creek Trail, which starts at the Bankhead MARTA Station. The Beltline will eventually go right next to the Bankhead MARTA Station and then go through what will become Atlanta’s largest park, Westide Quarry Park which will also provide Atlantans a 30-day supply of water. The potential extension of the Silver Comet Trail into the City is very exciting. I am also working with Mayor Bottoms and many others to finally bring our City to its river by establishing a multiuse trail and other amenities along the Chattahoochee River. The best part is that all these I have mentioned will eventually all interconnect to one another. It’s all very exciting.

IGW: You have worked in some high pressure situations including treating some of the first Ebola cases that came to the U.S.. Any lessons from those experiences that you apply to you job as Councilmember?

Hillis: There were challenges in that job especially when I was tending to the Ebola patients. You are going into uncharted territory and putting your knowledge to work in a new way. Teamwork was also a necessity there as we worked to improve lives and implement new protocols for care. As a nurse, you treat everyone the same regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status because everyone deserves fair treatment delivered with dignity and respect. You never know what a patient or family member is going through, so you need to be a great listener and communicator, and I think the same can be said for public servants.


City of Atlanta Council President Felicia A. Moore

Atlanta City Council President Felicia A. Moore with City of Atlanta Urban Planner Daniel Calvert (left) and Isabel González Whitaker at a Friends of Sara J. González Park gathering at Nuevo Laredo in March.

Atlanta City Council President Felicia A. Moore with City of Atlanta Urban Planner Daniel Calvert (left) and Isabel González Whitaker at a Friends of Sara J. González Park gathering at Nuevo Laredo in March.

Felicia A. Moore has long had a vested interest in the development and growth of our District 9 neighborhood. As an Atlanta City Council member since 1997, and as the Council's president as of last year, she remembers clearly some of the challenges that faced the neighborhood years ago, an area she's called home for almost 30 years. "There was a wastewater treatment plant near us and as a result a lot of odor and truck traffic," she recalls. "We had also lost a retail anchor and the area was facing environmental decline."   With neighborhood support, she applied for and won for a Livable City Initiative Grant in the late 1990s, which was the beginning of the improvements that the area has benefited from including better intersections and odor control. "Those efforts have opened a lot of the area for development and growth that we are seeing come to fruition now," she says. In a conversation with journalist Isabel González Whitaker, who is also the steward of the Sara J. González Park,   Moore talks about the neighborhood's growth, the importance of green space, and what the Sara J. González Park will mean to the community.

Isabel González Whitaker: As a lifelong resident of this community, what are you excited about right now?

Felicia A. Moore:   We have a new shopping center, a retail development across the street [from the park], that has brought the neighborhood back to the days where it was a big shopping hub.  We also have several new residential units coming in.  It's nice to have a corridor where you can live and shop within your own community. Also the diversity of the area is a beautiful thing.

IGW:   What are some of the challenges facing the neighborhood during this growth phase?

Moore:  You have to balance the growth and development with making sure that we are still providing for affordable housing so that everyone can take advantage of it.

IGW:   Without the benefit of the census numbers in front of us, can you talk anecdotally about the Hispanic population in this area?

Moore:   We have a quite large Hispanic community in that area.  I can think of three housing developments specifically:  One is right across from the park, an apartment complex.  We have a trailer park that’s off of Chattahoochee Avenue.  And a couple of others that house many along Bolton Road.  We did have a very large population in what was called Bolton Place Apartments which has now been torn down. The population has fluctuated, but for the most part I think there’s a larger concentration of Hispanics in this area intown than any other area of the city.

IGW:    How do you hope the Sara J. González Park might serve this community and the community at large?

Moore:  I believe this is the ideal place for this park because of the Hispanic population that is in and around that area.  As an African American, it’s very important to me to be able to connect with and identify with images and names and commemorations that reflect who I am as my culture. So that the young kids can play in a park named after someone with a familiar name to them is important. And more generally I think it’s important to recognize the fact that the area is diverse.  It’s not just white.  It’s not just black.  We also have a Latino community that is there and has been there all the years that I know of that I’ve lived in that area.

IGW:   How do you feel this park, which is the first Hispanic park in the State, relates to what's happening in the region with some monuments to the South's past being toppled?

Moore:  I think it’s important as we— and that’s a collective we of everyone as a people—recognize that we’re not the only people on Earth and that everybody matters. I just came back from the March for Humanity in honor of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and I loved the name of that because it was a collective march for all of humanity and for everyone.  And I think it’s important for us to recognize that we do have cultural differences but that brings us together.  And so having the park there, having kids who can identify with that park, having people of other races, of cultures including myself recognizing that is such an important thing.  And it’s really shocking that it’s the only one in the whole state of Georgia.  That means that is something that we need to work on. We need to work on making sure that we have other parks or monuments that recognize the full cultural diversity of our city.

IGW:  What do you see as the value of urban parks?

Moore:  We've got to have our parks.  Beyond being our respite, it's definitely the environmentally friendly thing to do and it’s a place where community can meet and people can bring families.  I have such fond memories of myself as a young girl and all the activities that I took part in parks growing up.  If I wasn’t at home I was at the park. Our parks are extremely important in that they’re a part of the fabric of our city.

Every month we will feature a supporter of the park. Learn more about the Sara J. González Park here and donate here. Follow us on Facebook here.