With support from two churches (historically Black, Paradise Baptist Church and majority-white Atlanta Westside Presbyterian are the basis for the “PAW”) she purchased a former trap house on Donald Lee Hollowell Blvd and renovated it to provide a safe, loving environment for the kids after school.
The program quickly grew to thirty, and LaTonya, who herself was raised in poverty, determined that the kids needed not only enrichment, but learning support, behavioral health support, and family support in order to thrive. In 2017, she opened another space, the Gathering Place, to provide respite for parents, parenting support groups, and opportunities for counseling.
How We Started
PAWKIDS began in 2015 as an after-school enrichment program for children in Grove Park, and has expanded over time in response to the needs of our children, their families, and the community we share. Our founder and executive director, LaTonya Gates Johnston, launched PAWKIDS in a neighbor’s backyard with five children.
Later, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced PAWKids to pause after-school programming, we opened Claudia’s House food pantry to distribute food and hygiene supplies to all of our neighbors, including our children and house-bound seniors.
We also restructured the behavioral health program, using a new, donor-created fund to pay counselors for group and individual counseling so that our neighbors could receive the most impactful care. We also began to give out mercy funding for housing to families being impacted by gentrification on the Westside.
This Hope Is Our Story
Why Expand Into Family Services?
After a year, the perspective of the work changed when PAWKids reflected on the deep issues plaguing our families. We learned that children needed a stabilized family in order to thrive; so the idea for Family Enrichment Programs was born.
Finally, in 2022, we opened the PAWKIDS Plaza, an outdoor community space that provides a resting place, play opportunities, and free food events for our neighbors.
47% single parent homes
over 21% unemployment
47% of families' incomes below the poverty line
99% of students qualified for free or reduced school lunch
3 out of 4 schools in the community had been identified as "failing"
Why Children's Enrichment in Grove Park?
When we moved into the neighborhood it was characterized by: