Nonprofit leader sees love and dignity shared generously through partnership with StreetWise

She grew up traveling the world with her musician father, developing a love for music and art. But Tami Wilder also realized not everyone has the chance to embrace that part of themselves, due to their economic and life circumstances.

That’s why, ten years, ago Tami and her mother Linda co-founded the nonprofit Positive Impact International. Positive Impact teaches underserved kids performing arts, arts and crafts, film and photography, vegan culinary, tae-kwon do and sports – free or with just a small fee. They also help kids facing homelessness, serving as an emergency shelter for kids 17 and under who aren’t in DFCS custody.

“We serve as the Gwinnett County Safe Place – though we serve as far as South Carolina,” Tami said. “While kids are with us, we help them with life skills, making sure they finish school, are working and are in therapy. We want them to have the chance to become independent, healthy, stable adults and to not add to the homeless demographic of our county.”

An introduction from a mutual friend of StreetWise Executive Director Tracy Joseph, Home of Hope CEO Maureen Kornowa, brought Tami and Positive Impact into a partnership with StreetWise.

“At our four emergency shelter homes, every six weeks, StreetWise provides about $750 of food,” she said. “That really helps with our grocery expenses, because teenagers don’t stop eating! What we would be spending on groceries, we’re now able to spend on their medication, school expenses, utilities, etc.

“And any of the events we hold – community classes or after school programs – we invite StreetWise teen clients to participate, too.”

Along with running her own nonprofit, Tami sits on StreetWise’s teen advisory board, helping to coordinate and lead their periodic teen hang events.

“I like being on their teen advisory board, because they serve all these families, so there’s a lot of teenagers that come through. We’re thinking through how we can meet their needs,” she said. 

“I love that StreetWise is always asking, ‘How do we go beyond people picking up boxes of food?’ Like providing for people’s pets; most places are not going to give you pet food. But some people go without food so they can feed their pets. StreetWise really looks at how they can meet the needs and fill in those gaps. 

Tami with StreetWise Georgia Executive Director Tracy Joseph

“Tracy is constantly trying to think of new things and going against the grain. Many leaders stick with what’s easy, but he will go there and rock the boat; I have so much respect for that.”

Recognizing that being in need doesn’t always look the way you think it would is a challenge many struggle to overcome. Personal difficulty is part of what fuels Tami to do good for those in need – and it’s something important at StreetWise, too.

“I grew up with very a privileged life, traveled the world and didn’t experience what a lot of families do. But after getting married 17 years ago, I suffered with epilepsy. I’d sometimes have 30 seizures back to back, and for about six or seven years, I couldn’t work,” she said. “I had two little girls, and a [now ex-] husband who didn’t want to work. If I didn’t have my parents to help, I’d be no different from any of the families StreetWise serves. I would have been at a food pantry.

“We’re all like three degrees away from a situation – health, natural disaster, or anything – where we find ourselves needing help. That’s why I think it’s so important that we don’t pass judgment and recognize that homelessness and food insecurity is very real. None of us are exempt from being in a situation like that.”

Tami is a major advocate of StreetWise for two main reasons. 

“First, there are so many families who are going through rough times and just need a break,” she said. “Many food pantries in the area have so many regulations, and if someone is hungry and we can feed them, we should feed them. Or if they need clothes, we should clothe them. 

“Second, people in our community who are looking to give need to know that StreetWise serves so many families – thousands of families. They need more partnerships and donors. It’s such a great, wholesome organization, and I think more people need to know that it’s here and get involved so we can reach more families.”

There’s no replacement for truly meeting people where they are. And it’s a passion Tami shares with StreetWise.

“I really appreciate that StreetWise surveys the people they serve to make sure that they’re staying in touch with their actual needs. When I think about their name, I think about how they connect with people on the streets in their community and know what’s going on.

“There are some great organizations, and there are some that are not so great. Some places just have their name out there and aren’t really doing the work. A lot of the time, it’s the agencies that get zero recognition who are making the most impact.”

One of Tami’s own staff members was blessed in a special way through one of StreetWise’s volunteers.

“One day, one of our house family moms went to pick up food from StreetWise, and she was having a rough day,” she said. “When you have six different children coming from six different challenging backgrounds, and your job is to meet their needs day in, day out… 

“The volunteer asked, ‘Is there anything I can pray for with you?’ And she’s not the type person that would be like, ‘I need someone to pray for me’. But she said she did, and it encouraged her spirit so much. The volunteer was very specific, and for one second, her needs were being met. That meant so much to me, because I didn’t realize what all she was going through, but through her serving the kids, she was served by StreetWise.

“I also sit on the panel for juvenile court. Awhile back, there was a man whose wife had extreme mental illness and had been hospitalized multiple times. His eight-year-old son had been charged of assault of a teacher at school. When he came into court to deal with his son’s charges, he was so discouraged. He looked like he was ready to give up on life. 

“But that day – even though it wasn’t what we were there for – I told him about StreetWise, and I could just see the relief on his face: ‘They’ll help me and I won’t have to go through all these stipulations?’ 

“A lot of times, when people are in the most vulnerable situations, it’s humbling. You wonder if people are looking down on you. But just watching him be able to take a deep breath and think ‘Someone’s going to help me, and I’m not going to have to feel judged,’ – it’s more than just food.”

Tami with Home of Hope CEO Maureen Kornowa at StreetWise’s first annual Beyond the Box Gala

Love and dignity are two things StreetWise wants to give to everyone who steps foot onto the property. It’s something irreplaceable and what truly changes minds and hearts toward hope, and that’s the goal.

“I told Tracy that one of the things I loved about their gala was how they really honored their volunteers multiple times throughout the night,” she said. “And with their clients: Even when we’re in meetings where we can say stuff behind closed doors, nobody is disrespected. That’s really important to me, because I see so much with other organizations. 

“StreetWise isn’t just giving people stuff; they’re truly helping them be self-sufficient so they can say they did it themselves. They’ll give you a little bit of relief, but you’re doing it. You’re paying your bills.

“It’s really refreshing to see an organization that truly loves their clients, their people and their volunteers.”