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Local health nonprofit plans to launch ‘social innovation hub’ in Decatur

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Local health nonprofit plans to launch ‘social innovation hub’ in Decatur

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The former home of the Task Force for Global Health at 325 Swanton Way in Decatur. The task force still owns the property, which The National Association for Chronic Disease Directors hopes to buy to build its social innovation hub. Photo by Cathi Harris


By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA – What if organizations focused on addressing the “upstream” causes of chronic diseases could easily collaborate and work together on their common goals instead of struggling independently with administrative costs and funding?

That’s a question that a local Decatur health care association wants to answer.

“Competition among nonprofits often keeps us from working together,” John Robitscher, director of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) told the Decatur Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board Friday. “Even if we are working on similar things, with the way that it is funded, things are very siloed.”

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The NACDD is a nationally focused association that funds research and support for local and state initiatives that address chronic disease prevention. Most of the funding they get comes through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but they also have a separate foundation, ProVention Health Services, that raises private funds to support their efforts as well.

Many societal issues have significant impact on development of chronic diseases, and the NACDD hopes to encourage nonprofits that are working in those different areas to be a part of the new hub in Decatur.

“Things like access to clinical care, food security, housing security, having good transportation … These are all things that affect health. We don’t think of them as being related, but they play a big role in our ability to be healthy and stay healthy,” Robitscher said.

The NACDD is based in Decatur and currently leases office space in a building owned by the Task Force for Global Health, which has now moved into a new building at 330 West Ponce de Leon Avenue. Task force representatives reached out to their association to let them know they were preparing to sell their old building and wanted to find a national organization that might be interested in buying it.

Robitscher says the association wants to raise funds to buy the property to develop a “social innovation hub” bringing together different mission-driven nonprofits under one roof to cooperate.

Through NACDD’s work, they have identified seven areas of focus that they believe have an impact on chronic disease prevention, he said. These are: food security; transportation access; access to healthcare; health education; job training and employment readiness and economic development.

“We could take our $30 million in grant funding that we get from the CDC and say, ‘How do these [initiatives] affect transportation or housing or food security, and are there ways that we can build in opportunities with other, like-minded partners, to work better, smarter and faster,” he said. “We would ask that they look at their grant programs and do the same.”

Robitscher estimates that the sale of the building is about three years away, and he is beginning the process of seeking money from charitable giving to purchase and renovate the property. He estimates that the initial purchase and renovation would cost about $6 million. They are also considering removing the existing building and building a new, state-of-the art building that would feature innovative environmentally efficient design, but that will be determined by how much they can raise.

The NACDD is not seeking any public funds, but they are making presentations about the idea to city leaders as well as a number of community development groups to get their perspectives.

“Many of our potential funding sources will want to see evidence that we have buy-in from local groups and government officials,” Robitscher said. “If we could, we would like to get a letter of support for what we want to do.”

DDA Board member Lisa Turner, owner of Trinity Mercantile and Design also sits on the board of the local nonprofit, Furnish with Love, which has its offices at Legacy Park along with several other Decatur organizations. She said that she has experienced firsthand how gathering complementary nonprofit groups in a shared space can have an advantage.

“Just being able to talk to each other under one roof and things like not stepping on each other’s events [with conflicting schedules] and that kind of thing — even small things like that can have a big impact. So, I think it’s wonderful,” Turner said.

In other DDA news:

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– The board voted unanimously to agree to an amendment to their lease agreement with the restaurant Kimball House, which leases the DDA-owned Decatur train depot building. The amendment will allow another three-year renewal option on top of the current five-year option that Kimball House owners’ may choose to exercise when their original lease expires in October of 2022. They have an existing five-year renewal option, but are seeking an additional three years in order to apply for a loan from the federal Small Business Administration. The loan would be financed over 10 years, ending in 2030, but their lease options were set to expire in seven years. The additional three-year option will make the lease time frame “match” that of the loan, DDA attorney Kyle Williams told the board. The SBA loan will not encumber the property in any way, Williams added.

– Downtown Program Manager Shirley Baylis announced that the city has canceled large events with an expected attendance of 250 people or more through the month of April. This includes the Amplify music festival, which had been scheduled for April 25. An arts event to be held at the Different Trains Gallery in conjunction with the annual Gathering 4 Gardner conference in Atlanta has also been postponed by the organizers. Right now, the Decatur Arts Festival, slated for May 22-24, is still on, with the city and organizers waiting to see later developments with the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The city has reached out to area businesses to provide guidance on measures they can take to protect the public and themselves.

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