The “Power” of Partnership

The year was 1981 and I was in preschool.  I cannot remember names but in my mind’s eye I can see myself diligently working to build a fort out of blocks when the teacher informed me that I needed to share some blocks with a female classmate so she could build a princess castle.  Princess castle? I protested.  I cannot recall how the dialogue progressed after my objection but what resulted was a crude form of collaboration that ended with a princess fort…

For most of the Stewart Center’s existence the organization has benefited from strong partnerships with Baptist people, churches, and organizations.  The Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and the North American Mission Board (formerly the Home Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention have provided staff, finances, resources, and networking in years past.   While these partnerships have brought great value to the Center and contributed to the maturation of the organization they have primarily originated from outside of the local community.  For the Stewart Center, the summer of 2014 represents a new breed of partnerships that will define our future.

This year the Center is hosting three summer-long camps, each made possible by the substantial contributions of community partners.  In Reynoldstown our morning rotations of Jump Start (academic enrichment), art, recreation, and faith development are hosted at Lang Carson Recreation Center.  Through a partnership with the City of Atlanta we have been granted use of Lang Carson’s educational space.  For the second consecutive year we are partnering with the Atlanta Public School System to provide camp for over 70 children in the Pittsburgh community at Gideons Elementary School.  In Grant Park we are collaborating with Park Avenue Baptist Church and field personnel from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to execute a leadership camp for middle school students.

These are NOT our predecessors’ partnerships and our impact has never been greater.

Power, according to Merriam Webster, is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Since arriving at the Stewart Center in 2009 I have dreamed, talked and written about the Center’s power to influence young peoples’ lives.  We deeply desire to help children and communities unlock their full potential.  The Center seeks to employ its resources to grow enlightened, responsible, and courageous young people that desire the best for themselves, their families, and their communities.  Experience teaches that these things do not occur by holding control, authority, and influence over others.  We must exchange the power of control for the power of collaboration.

The power of partnership is characterized by discovery, engagement, and creativity.  The Stewart Center has relinquished some control and compromised on certain elements of this summer’s programming and in return we are seeing the greatest potential for growth in the organization’s recent history.  Access to cutting edge technology, environments conducive to learning, progressive curriculums, and expanded educational travel are a few of the benefits directly affecting our campers.

Collaboration is not without struggle.  Expectations and communication are huge components that must be carefully managed.  Trust must be established and grace must be given if partnerships are to endure.  These potential hurdles are often elevated when working with people, communities, and institutions that function with social and professional norms different than one’s own.  There is also great risk.  The risk of failure, the risk of broken relationships, the risk of tarnished reputations, and the risk of financial loss are all possible outcomes.  On top of these add the reality that collaboration can be downright maddening.

The Stewart Center still benefits from great partnerships with churches and individuals outside of our community but it is the work with neighborhood stakeholders that will determine the Center’s direction.  Despite the struggles that accompany partnerships there is a larger narrative unfolding in our community, city and world and the Center’s autonomy must not hinder the growth of others.  When we partner, I become a little less me and they become a little less them and together we become a little more us.

Who knows, we might end up with a one-of-a-kind princess fort?

Reynoldstown Camp

Reynoldstown Camp

iLead - Middle School Camp

iLead – Middle School Camp

The Test of Time by Megan Warley

“Mrs. Little approached Mrs. Andrew Stewart asking her to make this nursery a Memorial to Mr. Stewart, a man who was known to be a friend to all children and especially interested in all unfortunate ones. Mrs. Stewart was delighted with the idea-stating that Mr. Stewart had told her to give-and to give generously-just as he had given and to commemorate his name in an Institution whose one purpose was to help every child that came within its doors; to give the child an opportunity to make the beginning of life on equal footing with its more fortunate brothers.”

I was recently approved to research and compose a comprehensive history of the Andrew P. Stewart Center as a part of my graduate studies at Georgia State. While giving my advisor some background on the Center and detailing the research I had done, he made a very astute observation: that perhaps what is most significant about the Stewart Center (from a historical perspective) is its ability to survive the test of time.

Gentrification, racial tensions, financial problems, building concerns, and rotating leadership are just a few of the challenges the Center has faced over the past century. While the question of its survival is important to me in understanding the Centers overarching story, it has also been important to me in understanding and accepting my day to day struggles at the Center.

While my time at the Center has been life-giving and beautiful, there have been some tough times. On days when I felt frustrated, unappreciated, tired, angry, ineffective, or cynical, I found myself needing reassurance and strength. Oddly enough, I often sought that reassurance by reading about the people who carried the Center on their shoulders throughout the past 100 years. Like Mrs. Stewart and her friends, who worked tirelessly to get the Stewart Center on its feet through their social influence and financial support, even before they had the right to vote. Like Myrtle Salters and Elizabeth Lundy, who walked the Center through four decades of turbulent social and racial change (1935-1974). Like Alice White, who reached out to neighborhood children when drugs and crime were at an all-time high in Reynoldstown. These leaders faced incredible obstacles and made decisions that would alter the future of the Stewart Center forever. Their courage gave me strength.

Having spent so much time reflecting on the strong leaders of the Stewart Center’s past has helped me identify and appreciate those strong leaders in our present. Like Clayton Davis, who made an empty, dilapidated building come to life again through his clear vision and tireless efforts. Like Bridget Grant, who never stops giving, and who reminds me so much of Mrs. Stewart. Like Jeneen Mitchell, who for four years has continuously modeled unconditional love and respect to the children. And like the countless volunteers, interns, and staff who do the hard work of running an after school program and summer camp…I wish I could write about you all.

Today the Stewart Center is thriving—this summer it will operate 3 simultaneous summer camps, serving over 150 children in two neighborhoods. The staff has grown in numbers and in expertise. We have quadrupled our network of support over the last few years, and it continues to increase. The future is bright, and I am so excited for all of the opportunities the Center will be able to offer children as it grows.

The Center has survived for 98 years because generations of people believed in Love and Justice for every human being, and selflessly gave of themselves for the sake of children. Whether their actions were guided by a call from God, a desire for social justice, or a love for children, their tireless efforts created a truly special place in the Stewart Center. The spirit of love that so many leaders, volunteers, and families shared together at the Stewart Center lives on, and it grows with every act of generosity, selflessness, or reconciliation that occurs today.

While I could try to summarize in a few sentences why I believe the Andrew P. Stewart Center has successfully kept its doors open for 98 years, I’ve realized that the “why“ isn’t the point. Even if the Center celebrates another 100 years in 2116, the reality is that no institution lasts forever. But the spirit of love that lives in this big blue house will forever carry on in the lives of those it touched—including mine.

“Such a Time as This.”

“Without countless, unnamed women the Stewart Center would not exist, and their legacy continues. Today many dedicated women give their time, energy, and resources to the Center through volunteering, serving on the APSC board, donating resources, etc.” When Megan Warley wrote those words on the Stewart Center history blog – she was not thinking of herself, but over her three years of service, she has become one of the most influential women ever to be associated with the organization.

I am sad and happy to announce that after three years of service, Megan will be leaving the Center to pursue graduate studies at Georgia State University and her passion for historical preservation. While we are sad that Megan will not continue as program director, we are excited for her as she begins the next chapter in her life. Her departure also makes us very proud. Megan’s interest in historical preservation was fostered by her efforts to organize and codify the Stewart Center’s rich history into a resource we can use to honor our past and guide our future.

The Center exists to see people living purposeful lives in pursuit of their full potential. The Center has played a role in helping Megan realize one of her life’s passions.

The Stewart Center was founded as the “Andrew Stewart Day Nursery” in 1916 and opened its doors to the first children on March 15, 1917. Mrs. Frances Stewart was influential in the organization’s founding, and the other supporting women felt it appropriate to name the ministry in memory of Mrs. Stewart’s late husband Andrew. Over the last ninety eight years the Center has been led by some remarkable women. Megan Warley is a part of that group.

In many ways the Center has been searching for its identity since it was incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 in 1995. Once an auxiliary ministry of the Atlanta Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), the Center has experienced the freedom and the difficulty of being an autonomous nonprofit. Megan has advanced the organization in many ways, but perhaps her most profound contribution has been her ability to connect the Center with others in the larger community.

Megan has used her previous nonprofit experience along with her professional and social networks to expand the Center’s profile by generating new partnerships with other nonprofits, community groups, universities, churches, and individuals. Our programs have been greatly enriched by Megan’s ability to identify, enlist, and nurture volunteers and partnerships. While her focus has been programmatic, many of the connections she has made have increased the overall strength of the organization. For much of its history the Stewart Center was a “Baptist” ministry supported almost exclusively by Baptist churches and Baptist folks. Thanks in part to Megan’s efforts, the Stewart Center’s base of support has grown to include a broad representation of the Atlanta community.

Megan’s love for the children and youth of the Stewart Center has been the driving force behind her transformative service. She has led the program staff with excellence and integrity. The quality of our programming has increased, our standing in the community has risen, and children’s lives have been enriched because of Megan’s faithful service.

The Center was founded by a group of determined women before they had the right to vote; it has been led by strong women such as Francis Stewart, Elizabeth Lundy, Myrtle Salters, Novella McClung, Alice White, Brittany Mackey and Megan Warley ever since. Megan’s faith tradition, leadership style, talents, and tenure may be different than her predecessors but her contributions have forever changed the organization.

The Center has been in a state of transition for the entire time Megan has served as program director but I cannot help but think of the words of Mordecai in the Book of Esther when he reminds his niece Queen Esther that she might have been placed in leadership for “such a time as this.” Megan has served the Center for three years and her contributions will last for many years to come.

It has been an honor and pleasure to serve with you Megan and I am thankful we will continue as friends.

We will miss you – Godspeed Megan.


The Blank Page by John Abbott

When my two kids were in middle and high school, I always volunteered on Career Day and shared with the students my work as an architect. I don’t think my arrival in the classroom was ever met with quite the anticipation of the police officer or firefighter who were by far the most popular presenters.

But I had cool props: scale models, renderings, 3-D drawings and great photographs of buildings. Over the years I have fine-tuned the presentation to talk less about architecture and more about the creative process. I still like to show how a rough sketch can actually become a building; how an idea can become reality. My favorite example is a little yellow pad of Post-It-Notes, one of the most useful, successful and sustainable inventions ever, born from the collaboration of an engineer and a marketeer. The Wright Brothers made an airplane out of bicycle parts. Picasso didn’t paint a wine bottle or a guitar or a woman’s face. He painted them all differently.

Have a simple, elegant idea and make it happen.

So, one afternoon I took this message to a group of middle school students at the Stewart Center, Fortunately, other props for this discussion walk right through the door with the audience. I point out a handbag, an I-phone, a printed tee shirt, a backpack, a bracelet- all of which first required an idea- a newer idea, a different idea- and the wear-with-all to make it happen. I show them the tools of architect’s creative process: some sketches, scale models, drawings and photographs of built work.

They have good questions about being an architect

Do you have to know a lot of math? Yes. Basic math, geometry, physics and thermodynamics are fundamental cornerstones of architectural and engineering design and building construction. (They slump a little)

What about literature and writing? You have to be skilled in communicating and marketing your ideas to others who can help you make those ideas become real. (A few grimaces.)

How long does it take to become an architect? Five or six years of college, three years of internship and a seven-part registration exam. (Man, that’s a long time.)

How much money do you make? Enough. (No help there.)

At this age, the students are allured by the prospect of making a lot of money – quickly. I suspect this notion is propagated by the big dollars paid the stars of the sports and entertainment industries.

The students at the Stewart Center have ambition, dreams, big ideas: fashion designer, virtual game designer, writer, veterinarian, nurse, owner of a Five Guys. I stress imagination and invention coupled with hard work, patience and persistence. Never give up. There are a lot failures in between the successes.

I close my presentation by showing them a blank page in my sketchbook. They see a blank page. I see opportunity and a chance for a fresh idea to be put to paper, considered, tested, refined and built. The page isn’t empty. It’s full.

They get it.

John Abbott

Growing Together

The following is the first posting in a series of blogs by Stewart Center staffers, volunteers, partners, and community members. Katie and Dakota live at the Center and are interning for the spring semester.

Our names are Katie and Dakota, and we have been at the Stewart Center for just over two months. Though we haven’t been here for long, we feel like we have learned a lot about these kids and this program. Spend a day here, and you’ll notice that the kids are playful, full of energy, and probably really ornery. Spend a week here, and you may come to notice that a few kids here and there need more help with schoolwork than others. Spend a couple more weeks here, and you’ll notice that the majority of students need one on one attention with their school work, attention that just isn’t possible in a classroom of thirty with only one teacher.
Our favorite part about the Stewart Center (aside from the gorgeous, blue paint) is the emphasis it puts on education. Homework time always comes right after snack, and continues until the child is either finished, or their parents pick them up. Every youth center either of us has ever attended has been one that was basically ‘free play’ for several hours, and provided little, if any academic support. There are consistently several people in each classroom available to help each student, which makes a huge difference.

Since we have been at the Center, we have noticed that the majority of the children are not where we think they should be according to their grade level. A second grader should not be struggling when reading a picture book and a child in third grade should not find difficulty in reciting their math tables. A 5 year old should be able write and spell their name. We find this so frustrating because we know that every single student that we have come into contact with at the Center is bright, kind, and has so much potential. The same second grader who has trouble reading can tell us, in detail, how LeBron James played the night before, and then can emulate the player on the basketball court. The third grader who has problems remembering their math tables has a beautiful voice and can remember the words to every song on the radio.

We both tutor in a program called book buddies, which is a one on one reading program for children who are significantly behind their grade level in reading. I (Dakota) have been helping my book buddy twice a week for two months, and witnessing his growth in such a short amount of time brings me so much joy. Every new word learned and every ‘Aha!’ moment makes this program the best that I’ve ever been a part of. I am learning that the small victories are the ones that make the biggest difference.

It’s wonderful to us to be able to witness growth in our students. We love to watch the triumph in a child’s face when they understand a math problem or they finally remember how to spell that tricky spelling word. It’s great to be able to call our moms and say, “Guess what I taught this student!” But often times we think about who will help them if they aren’t able to come to the Center. What will happen to these kids if they move? Will they get the help they need with their education? We often wonder if they will remember us, or their time at the Center when they are grown. And we think that they will. We think they will remember that they had a place where they were safe and cared for. We think they will remember that they had a place where the staff invested in their wellbeing, education, and truly loved them. We think one of the reasons we love this place so much is that everyone is completely invested in the children.

We love and cherish every child that comes through the Center’s doors. Even more, we love that the Center gives the children sound resources. Not just academic resources, but resources in other aspects of their lives as well. Both of us are from a small town in Indiana, so we are unfamiliar with what it means to grow up in the city of Atlanta. It can be hard to empathize with them – to try to understand what they go through not only at school, but also at home. While it can be hard to relate, or be relevant in their daily struggles, above all we believe in the work of the Stewart Center. We believe in keeping kids off the streets and in a safe place, where they can grow and strive to reach their full potential. We are thankful for the Stewart Center – not only for giving the students an opportunity to grow, but also for giving us the opportunity to grow alongside them.

In Christ,
Katie and Dakota