Athens-Clarke County is the poorest county in the country of its size, and while others look the other way, Andrew Wilkin has decided to lend a helping hand to those in need.
Wilkin, a University of Georgia graduate from Newnan, founded a company while participating in an entrepreneurial program at the school. While most of the other students created companies that benefited themselves, Wilkin was the only one who dedicated his project to helping the less fortunate and the Athens community as a whole. He created Homeless Help Card, a coupon card that gives customers access to discounts at more than 50 local Athens businesses, such as restaurants, clothing boutiques, grocery stores, fitness centers and more.
The card benefits many local charities including the Bigger Vision Shelter, a shelter that provides homeless people not only a place to stay, but also a setting where they can find a solution to their homelessness. Other beneficiaries include the Salvation Army, Sparrow’s Nest and Athens Area Homeless Shelter.
Wilkin graduated UGA with an accounting degree in 2012, and instead of landing a six-figure job in Atlanta, he decided to continue his dream of helping others and live without an income to do so. He wasn’t always sure that his idea would take off, though.
“I was shocked whenever I went into businesses and they took me seriously. I would walk in with a suit and a piece of cardboard, spouting off my idea to save the community, and they actually believed in me and wanted to help,” said Wilkin.
“Andrew is the type of person to always put his needs behind others,” said Nick Murphy, his partner in the project. “If he noticed that someone was cold on the streets, he’d give them the shirt off his back.”
Wilkin was inspired for this project while volunteering at the Bigger Vision Shelter on North Avenue. He began talking to the people that are supported by the shelter and found that there was a huge issue concerning homelessness in Athens that was being ignored. He also realized that there was a misconception that homeless people are “stupid” or addicted to drugs and alcohol. Wilkin hopes that creating homelessness awareness will make people want to help the homeless people more, as these are normal people thrown into a cycle of poverty.
According to Wilkin, some of the people that have become homeless have degrees in higher education and are extremely intelligent, but due to circumstances and the poor economy, have ended up in a horrible situation.
“I was happy to get my business involved with such a great cause,” said Natalie Bayne, owner of Athens Healing Massage Therapy. “Not only do I get more business [through the card], but I also am able to give back to society.”
Homeless Help Card has been able to raise over $17,500 for its sponsored charities and non-profits since its start in 2012. Wilkin hopes this number will continue to climb as awareness grows and the influence of the card expands.
“There’s nowhere in the Bible that says that we’ve done enough for people,” said Wilkin. “I want to live my life to be remembered, and the only way to be remembered is to have an impact on other people’s lives. Donald Trump will die and be forgotten, but Jesus Christ is someone that has been remembered for centuries.”