It didn’t take long for LaTonya to realize how important it is for someone working in ministry to be a part of the neighborhood she serves. In order to help facilitate the transition, Grove Park Renewal renovated a house for her to rent just two blocks from the PAWKids house.
“I need to be here every day,” says LaTonya. “I’m not just a part of the lives of these kids during the hours they’re at PAW. I see them walking down the street, at church, at their houses, and at mine.”
LaTonya moved from Edgewood into a Grove Park Renewal house in 2016, about a year after PAWKids opened. Her daughter Larenzia followed in 2017, and her son Anthony joined the staff of PAWKids in 2018. While Anthony continues to live in LaTonya’s Edgewood home, Larenzia now lives in a Grove Park Renewal home as well.
Not long after arriving in Grove Park, she became a foster mom to a six-month old boy who needed a stable home and someone who could get him the additional medical and therapeutic care he needs.
“My house is busy!” says LaTonya.
Her Grove Park Renewal home sees a constant flow of visitors: neighbors, friends, ministry partners, and PAWKids kids and their families. Over the years, she learned so much about her neighbors and her neighborhood by living with them day in and day out. Many residents on her street have lived there for decades, and they help LaTonya and others truly understand the rich history of Grove Park.
“Miss Jackie lives two doors down, and she’s been in her house for more than 50 years,” said LaTonya. “And Miss Jones who lives next door brings me cakes and pies. She was the first African-American woman to move onto the street.”
When asked what she values most about being in Grove Park, she couldn’t name just one thing.
“Having good neighbors. Being a good neighbor. Being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice. Taking soup to seniors,” she said. “I just love my neighbors!”
When asked how she felt about giving up the Edgewood neighborhood she loved to move to Grove Park, she was direct.
“I saw what happened in Edgewood,” said LaTonya. “When I moved there, it was a lot like Grove Park. And then it gentrified. So many people I knew and loved got forced out to Clayton County and Jonesboro. I do not want that to happen here. I do not want to live through that again.”
So, in addition to her leadership of PAWKids, LaTonya speaks up frequently on behalf of her neighbors and neighborhood to ensure that the people who are rooted in Grove Park can stay in Grove Park. She is one of the founding members of CityRootsATL, a non-profit that advocates for low-income housing in the City of Atlanta.
Over the last year, PAWKids has lost several families due to the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood. As Grove Park becomes more popular — due to its proximity to Midtown, Downtown, and the new Westside Park — their rental homes were sold, or the rent was increased to a level that was no longer affordable. When this happens, especially with little or no notice, families must scramble to find new housing. When they are able to — and not all are — it is usually in a different neighborhood or outside the Atlanta city limits.
Neighbors worry that more and more families will be forced to move out of their intown neighborhood to areas outside the perimeter. When that happens, jobs are lost, transportation becomes more difficult, and support systems and services are not as readily available.
“In November  our lives changed when we were given an opportunity to move into a
Grove Park Renewal home,” says PAWKids parent Jennifer Foster. “We love our new home and we love that Grove Park Renewal afforded us the chance to stay in this community we love so much.”
“Staying in one place that is close to transportation, jobs, their kids’ schools, their friends and families … that is so important to family and community stability,” says Grove Park Renewal director Justin Bleeker.
That’s why Grove Park Renewal has partnered with PAWKids to ensure that every PAW family in need of more stable housing can get a house through Grove Park Renewal. Currently, five PAW families live in GPR houses, and one more is getting ready to move in. However, four more families are either in need of immediate, stable housing or will need it in the very near future.
“Prices in the neighborhood are rising so high so fast, that if we don’t do something soon … if we aren’t able to buy more houses … if the city doesn’t step in and use its resources to address displacement in Grove Park … in eighteen months there will not be enough affordable housing in this neighborhood for the residents who really want to stay,” says Justin.
So for now, LaTonya and PAWKids are a haven for the kids in her program, many of whom are facing uncertain futures. And Justin and Grove Park Renewal are working to help all PAWKids families to have safe, affordable, stable housing so that they can continue to thrive in the PAW program.
Want to help a PAWKids family stay in Grove Park and in the PAWKids program? Click here and donate to Grove Park Renewal and help renew the next PAWKids family house!