Who We Are – E

Who We Are

For the last 127 years, Families First has been providing empowering solutions for Atlanta’s most vulnerable population by connecting, strengthening, and sustaining families. In 1890, Families First started as an orphanage on the Westside of the city. Then in 1937, we went on to become the first licensed adoption agency in the state of Georgia. In 1964, we opened the first group home for troubled teens in the state, and in 1989 we developed a curriculum that more than 200 communities across the country use to help divorcing parents learn how to co-parent their children.

We currently have 12 office locations across metro-Atlanta, two group homes that service foster care youth in our city, one home that serves single mothers in the foster care system. We also manage 45 units at a local apartment complex, which offers shelter and safety for homeless families struggling with a major illness, mental health concerns, or substance abuse issues. In these facilities children, youth and families learn the importance of education, working to support their family, and important life skills. At Families First, we recognize the cycles of poverty are not broken by one program alone, so we offer a combination of programs and supports. Through multiple locations, collaborations with community partners, and virtual services, Families First responds whenever and wherever we are needed.

The Families First Story

Families First was founded as an orphanage in 1890 by two determined women who saw the need of helping orphaned girls in the state of Georgia. Due to the high levels of poverty across the US during the 1890’s, families often traveled to find work, and as a result often left their children behind. Today, that orphanage has turned into a family-service agency that helps women, children and families across the metro-Atlanta area become self-sufficient.

Over the past 127 years, we have grown while also learning that we cannot stay the same. Needs have changed, family dynamics are different, and children are being forced to grow up faster today than ever before. At Families First, we are committed to continuously adjusting to the needs of our community, leveraging donations more efficiently, and working toward long-term family sustainability.


127 Years of Impact

In 1890, The Leonard Street Orphans’ Home was founded by Lucetta M. Lawson and Sarah L. Grant. It was a turbulent time in Atlanta’s history. Then, as now, children and families suffered from the pressures of poverty, dislocation, and bewildering social change. Only 45% of American workers earned yearly wages above the “poverty line” of $500.

This excerpt from the charter petition describes the purpose of the Leonard Street Orphanage: “…to train and take care of needy, colored girls who are orphans or have neither parents nor other relatives able to provide for them.” – September 12, 1890.

In 1907, Mrs. Laura Robinson attended a court hearing where a young mother was sentenced to jail. It was there that Mrs. Laura Robinson saw how worried the mother was about her child while she was going to be incarcerated. Laura took the child into her home and thus, Atlanta Child’s Home was born. For more information about the history of the Atlanta Child’s Home, click here.

Laura’s husband, Frank Mason Robinson, a civic leader and the first Secretary-Treasurer of the Coca-Cola Company, supported his wife’s efforts and was proud of her leadership. Incidentally, Mr. Robinson is credited with designing the Coca-Cola logo, which today is internationally recognized. The work of Laura Robinson is reflected in a number of agencies, including the Florence Crittenton Home, the Home for the Friendless (now Hillside Hospital) and the Child Welfare Association.

In 1930, the Child Welfare Association (made up from the merging of the Leonard Street Orphans’ Home and the Atlanta Child’s Home) was organized to strengthen work with children and to develop a system of foster parenting. These roots are reflected today in the specialized foster homes, group homes, adoption services and family preservation programs at Families First.

In 1936, Florence Van Sickler, of Miami, was hired as the Child Welfare Association’s Executive Secretary and was given leadership responsibilities for the development of the newly emerging adoption program. In 1937, the adoption program was officially up and running which made the Child Welfare Association the first private adoption agency in the state of Georgia.

Florence was very well known and appreciated for her work from 1936-1948. She was nationally recognized by the Child Welfare League of America and the National Conference of Social Welfare. Locally in 1946, she was named Woman of the Year in Social Welfare.

In the early 1940’s, “cottage plans,” or group homes were popping up across the country to take in troubled youth. In February 1962, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to establish a group home for troubled boys in Georgia.

As a result of several struggles with zoning issues, neighbors who didn’t support the idea, and a lack of funding, the Board turned the idea to a home for girls. That was much more well-received than the boys home. In February 1967, located on 10th street adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, the 10th Street Home for girls was opened.

Mr. and Mrs. David W. Kenniston were hired as group home parents. and stayed there for six years. During that time, they bonded with the girls, helped them with everyday needs and advice, and provided them with love and support. So much so, that years after they left, they were contacted by one girl to help with her wedding plans and another called to see if they would stand in as “parents of the bride”.

In the late 80’s there was a social change across the US. Young married couples with children were divorcing at an alarming rate. The CDC released a report on March 22, 1995 that showed the severe trends of divorce in families with children.

This climb of young parents trying to raise children in the midst of divorce proved there was a need for a curriculum that helped children learn how to cope with divorce. Children were depressed, rebellious and anxious and parents didn’t know what to do.

In 1989 Families First introduced the court-ordered “Children Cope with Divorce” program to help children and families learn how to cope with a separation of parents. If parents go to get divorced, the court will mandate (in some states) to attend a co-parenting class for the family. To date, more than 200 communities across the US have utilized this curriculum.

Imagine being a young mother and not being able to find shelter for you and your child. Many women deal with this struggle on a daily basis and Families First is able to help. In 1991, the Family Development Center (now Weaver Gardens) was opened to provide supportive housing for mothers, ages 17-26 who were previously homeless and have one child under the age of 12 months.

This program provides young mothers and their babies a safe place to live; training and support in critical areas such as parenting skills, relationship building, child development, health and nutrition and life-skills. The goal of Weaver Gardens is to enhance the mothers parenting skills and life skills, and to develop long-term economic independence.  The home is named after Bert Weaver, former Executive Director of Families First, and his vision to create the first ever supportive housing facility for young, homeless mothers in the US.

Thanks to a successful service and mission delivery, we outgrew our main office in Midtown. In the Fall of 2014, we launched the successful Family Matters Capital Campaign to raise $13.3 million to purchase and renovate the former E. R. Carter school in the Westside. In Summer of 2016, we moved into our new home! We’re a short distance from the Atlanta University Center and the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and across the street from the Ashby Marta station, making us more easily accessible to our clients and the community.