At Gresham Smith’s annual Celebration event, employees across the firm gather to recognize their colleagues’ achievements and project successes. As part of the event, one employee is honored with the Community Impact Award, which is given for outstanding commitment to the firm’s core purpose of creating healthy and thriving communities, and for displaying an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of others.
This year’s award was presented to Eria Barnett, a Senior Document Control Specialist in our Suwanee, Georgia office. Known as the “Block Mom” in her northwest Atlanta neighborhood, she has opened her home and her heart to children—providing a front-porch haven where they can read, simply talk and be themselves, while instilling a sense of hope for the future. We recently sat down with Eria to learn more about what motivates her “mission of love.”
Gresham Smith (GS): It sounds like you’ve earned quite the reputation in your neighborhood—in a good way! How did you end up as the “Block Mom?”
Eria Barnett (EB): All kids need a positive role model—someone who can help them work through problems in a healthy way, and that’s what I’m doing. The parents in the neighborhood know that I’m not trying to do their job for them, and that I just genuinely care about their children. They are very appreciative of my involvement in their kids’ lives. I wasn’t trying to become the block mom—it just happened!
GS: Why are you passionate about caring for the kids in your community?
EB: I want to show them that there are kind people in this world. If they’re not experiencing kindness, they’re not necessarily going to give kindness. I want them to understand that our neighborhood is community and that I have their back. As my grandmother used to say, “if you’re living and you’re here, then you live here.” Our neighborhood is a home for everyone, and I want all who live here to feel welcome, safe and cared for.
GS: We’ve heard that your front porch is the place to be! Tell us what a typical afternoon looks like.
EB: As soon as I get home after work, the kids flock to my porch! I have baskets of books and I challenge them to read to me, and if they don’t know how to read, then I practice sight words with them. We also express our creativity by painting, and we even had a tea party for one little girl’s birthday. During the holidays we sat around and sipped hot cocoa, and on New Year’s Eve we watched the fireworks together. I only have two rules on my porch: No fussing and no cussing.
GS: We heard that you made Christmas very special for them, too. How did you make that happen?
EB: I asked them what they wanted to for Christmas and a few of them wanted bikes. I visited my local Goodwill stores and purchased bicycles, then my friend heard about what I was doing and also purchased bicycles, and on Christmas morning we had a total of 10 bicycles, two scooters and a skateboard. It was really warm on Christmas so they rode up and down the street all day.
GS: What is your hope for the kids’ futures?
EB: I would like to see the kids through. I want to see them all succeed. I want them to grow up to be happy and successful. I don’t want them to experience poverty or use violence as a way of expressing themselves. I truly love them, and I want them to spread love as well. I don’t know how long I’ll be in their lives and if I’ll be able to see them through, but all I can do is plant the seeds in them.
GS: What do you hope others will take away from your story?
EB: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine those were your kids—what would you want done? There’s always an opportunity to show love, even if it’s just a smile or compliment or help at the grocery store. It’s about paying it forward. Life is all about love.