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Meet Cathy Berggren of Real Life Center in Fayette County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cathy Berggren.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cathy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 1998 there was a group of folks from Braelinn Church (now Dogwood Church) that began meeting and planning to create something that could meet the needs of individuals and families in our area. My undergraduate was in Social work, so this seemed like a good way to get involved, make a difference and meet people.

Our goal was to care for needs as well as to help with long-term change. Little did I know that shortly thereafter, that my own life would be going through some unexpected changes. My husband of twenty years decided he wanted something different, and I found myself with four children and my family across the country. I was devastated, but as I walked this journey I realized the gift that something like this could be to people from all walks of life.

My experience help shape the trajectory of the Real Life Center. Our strategy begins with providing a safe place to build relationships; understand the needs and respond with a holistic approach while ensuring everyone is treated with value and dignity; connect our families to resources that we offer and within the community, and help develop a plan providing encouragement and accountability along the way.

Today we serve two counties through our main center, we have two thrift stores, a four-acre orchard/garden project, and we serve families from any county monthly through an additional mobile food pantry. So far in 2017, we have received 10,153 family visits serving 3,579 unique individuals through various programs: food, clothing, educational classes, financial assistance and coaching, goal setting and accountability, job assistance, network and referral, fresh produce from our fruit orchard and vegetable garden, and more. YTD 2017, we have offered 55 classes, our two upscale thrift stores have contributed $80,000 of net profit to our operations, and our orchard and garden delivered 23,564 pounds of fresh produce.

Has it been a smooth road?
When you start up a business or a nonprofit – there is not a lot of anything, in the beginning, particular money and staff – which means you spend a lot of hours and energy. Certainly, that was the case for me. People didn’t know anything about this new organization, and there was no budget for marketing. The marketing plan was to build credibility by becoming the face of the organization and let the community hear your message and see who you are.

There were many times, I would be discouraged and exhausted. I remember renovated a building for one of our stores and organizing groups to come every Saturday for 3 months – there would be many Saturdays that it would be me and maybe one other person. Yet, along the way, it seemed like when I was the most discouraged, God would provide just the right person and encouraging words, a story of someone who was thanking me for the impact on their life or even an unexpected check of someone who believed in what we were doing.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
I mentioned some of the programs in an earlier question. What sets us apart from other nonprofits is our approach and what we are trying to accomplish. None of us are immune from going through the unexpected hard times, (such as job loss, a health issue, a divorce or a death) it can take just one thing to knock us off our feet. This is true no matter what socio-economic status you are in. We want to be that safe place to turn too, Most of us want to help our neighbor but unsure how to best do that. The Real Life Center provides a central place in our community for people to be a neighbor through serving, donating, etc. and making a difference in our community.

We start with a crisis strategy to help create stability but move to a developmental strategy that immediately helps the individual/family shift their thinking from the crisis today and where do they want to be a year from now. We invest in them centered around a one year period with everything we do seeking to remind them of their value and give them responsibility for their lives. Underneath the presenting needs, their is often a sense of helplessness of how to move forward. Our programs, classes, coaching/counseling help them build confidence and equip folks to move forward. Our holistic approach invests in all aspects of life: financially, relationally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Isolation and poverty go hand in hand, so keeping our families connected is something we are proud to be a part of.

Research shows that 3 months after someone comes in for help often it is another point of crisis. We are able to measure stability in the home at this point through our follow up program and consistently have over 90% of our families stable in their homes at 3 months. At the end of the 12 month period, over 60% of our families have met at least half of their goals. More than the statistics, the greatest gift is the renewal of hope and knowing they are not alone.

I am most proud of the way the community has united together to be a neighbor. People come and spend Saturdays or evenings and work in the orchard or the garden in the heat of the summer or serve by sorting clothes or food. They donate they expertise through educational classes or one on one mentoring. Our community will donate their items, intentionally to supporting us in many ways. It’s really the team of people that give, serve, and pray that make this happen.

We started in one room of a trailer on the church campus – now we have over 20,000 volunteer hours given every year, not including all of the groups and work off-site. Together, we really can make a difference! I love too when I am out in the community and people stop to tell me the impact the Center has had on their life – it is truly amazing to be a part of making a difference!

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Looking from my perspective and the South side of Atlanta – I would encourage anyone looking to start a business or whatever it is you are dreaming to do, take the time to look here. What makes this area great is the people – the Real Life Center is a testimony of people who care and will get involved. It’s the people that make our a community a great place to live, work and play!

Contact Info:

  • Address: 220 Parkade Court Peachtree City, GA 30269
    992 Senoia Road, Tyrone, GA 30290 Real Life Store (Fayetteville)
    400 North Glynn Street, Fayetteville, GA 30214
  • Website: www.reallifecenter.org
  • Phone: 770-631-9334 Real Life Store (Tyrone)
    770-632-3590 Real Life Store (Fayetteville)
    770-719-0880
  • Email: rlc@reallifecenter.org
  • Instagram: Real Life Center
  • Facebook: www.facebook.com/RealLifeCenter
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealLife_Center


Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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