By Deedee Abbott
Grant Park resident Tiffany Friesen has channeled her passions for civic engagement and education to benefit the folks in this community for more than thirty years. She has counseled teens, supported seniors, and boldly cast her lot with a handful of parents who dreamed of creating a school to serve their changing neighborhood. Their dream became the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School.
Friesen says she first came to Atlanta to learn about pacifist activism, but she stayed for the “Black and Brown people.” She grew up in Iowa, adopted into a white, Mennonite family. Although they lived in Jerusalem, Lebanon, and a predominantly Chicano neighborhood in California, Friesen still yearned for “some place where I’m not a complete outlier” as a Black American. She set her eyes on Atlanta.
While in college in Indiana, she spent Martin Luther King Jr. holidays learning about the power of pacifism and social activism at The King Center–principles embraced by King and Mennonites alike. Friesen knew she had found her place. In Atlanta, and in her chosen neighborhood of Grant Park, she was no longer an outlier. Quite the opposite: Tiffany Friesen has been an important part of supporting and growing this community since she moved here in 1992.
She has volunteered at a home for pregnant teenagers and driven a bus to assist seniors on their errands. When she worked for the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce’s department of education, she learned of a group of parents in Grant Park who were determined to create a charter school. There were no strong elementary options close by at the time. Although Friesen’s son was already enrolled at Morningside Elementary, she got involved to support her community.
The founders of ANCS were amateurs in school planning, but they had faith and energy. That, says Friesen, turned out to be enough. “Very rarely do people know what they are doing,” she says. “They are just willing to give their time.”
But the parents’ proposal was controversial. Atlanta Public Schools was in the early planning stages for another Grant Park school, Parkside Elementary. Some questioned the wisdom of dividing a population of children between two schools. Other parents said the charter school’s founding leaders were not inclusive. Friesen thinks those parents had a point.
In the initial stages of creating the charter school, involvement was “mostly based on who you knew,” Friesen says. The founders met at kitchen tables; as a result, what they learned was unintentionally limited to people within their social circles.
“It was all a big learning curve,” Friesen says. The school’s planners widened their reach and adopted strategies so that its convenings and leadership more closely mirrored the residents it served. The planners also committed to supporting Parkside. Thus, in 2002, a new charter school opened its doors.
Still, Friesen wonders if she and her fellow planners could have done some things better. “Charter schools are supposed to be incubators for ideas to share with larger public schools, but I don’t know if it ever got there,” Friesen says. “…I did feel like by the time we got through that process we quelled [critics’] angst, and we changed the way we did things.”
One thing that has not changed: Friesen’s dedication to service. She’s been on the board of directors for Families First, dedicated to building stronger families; Dress for Success, an organization that helps dress working women with the clothes they need for the workplace; and the Victim Witness Assistance Program, which advocates and provides for crime victims. She is currently Vice President of Programs at Philanthropy Southeast, an organization whose mission, according to its web site, is to “build a region where all people can participate and prosper.”
“I care about the community,” she says. “I care that the people are engaged.” It’s clear that she does. Today, if Tiffany Friesen is considered an outlier, it’s because she’s a bold and exceptional member of the Grant Park community, Atlanta, and beyond.
The Porch Press recognizes Friesen’s commitment to Grant Park and the city. We share the stories of Friesen and other Legacy Neighbors to highlight longtime Grant Park residents who helped form the foundation of this community.
Help us grow the Legacy Neighbors network. If you or someone you know has been a resident of the Grant Park area for twenty-five years or more, reach out to join our list and learn about events and resources. Contact Carl Rowland at 404-312-5293 (text) or firstname.lastname@example.org.