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Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant who lives on the Dunwoodg-Sandg Springs line and
writes about people whose lives inspire others. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAC leader leaves a legacy
of helping others
After 23 years as CEO of the Community
Assistance Center, Tamara Carrera has an
nounced her intention to retire. Her legacy
will be hard to equal.
CAC was founded in San
dy Springs in 1987 by 10 lo
cal congregations to ad
dress growing poverty in the
community. For the next six
years, it operated out of the
scout hut at one of the mem
ber churches. Then in 1993
along came Carrera, a bilin
gual native of Ecuador new
to Atlanta, with an MBA
in nonprofit management
and a desire to get involved.
Her family joined Holy In
nocents’ Episcopal Church,
where on Mission Sunday
she encountered CAC and signed up.
“ft was basically all volunteers then,”
she said. “Neighbors helping neighbors.”
She soon went from volunteering once
a week to joining the board of directors. By
1997, she was CAC’s fourth CEO.
“I started part-time, for basically no
money,” she said of the organization that
provided food and clothing to 280 families
a year with an annual budget of $24,000.
She soon realized it wasn’t really a part-
time job but believed in the mission and
told the board she would work as many
hours as necessary for the part-time salary.
After the 1996 Olympics, many of the
thousands of people who had come here to
work were left jobless but stayed. The com
munity was growing rapidly. So was the
need. Carrera became a fundraiser.
“That’s when we started strategic plan
ning,” she said.
Today CAC is the local community
emergency assistance agency, every year
serving more than 6,500 individuals in
3,000 households. It has an annual budget
of over $5 million, 18 staff members, three
locations and more than 500 regular vol
unteers supported by 28 religious congre
gations and numerous individual, corpo
rate and foundation donors.
CAC prevents homelessness and pro
motes self-sufficiency by providing need
ed food, clothing and emergency financial
assistance. To qualify for assistance, people
must live in one of six ZIP codes in Sandy
Springs, Dunwoody and part of Doraville.
Since its founding, it has helped more than
20,000 households cope with financial
CAC operates out of three buildings: its
headquarters at 1130 Hightower Trail, its
food pantry and thrift store at 8607 Ro
swell Road and a part-time food pantry at
5 Dunwoody Park South in Dunwoody. A
second Sandy Springs location inside 285
is currently closed for renovation.
In 2012, the Community Action Center
became the Community Assistance Cen
ter (still CAC) to facilitate fundraising and
more accurately reflect its
‘“Action Center’ was a
term from the 1960s for social
work organizations funded
by public money, not 501(c)3’s
like us,” she said. “When I
went to foundations for mon
ey, they said, ‘We don’t fund
CAC has changed in the era
of COVID-19. Its main build
ing is temporarily closed,
its thrift store and food pan-
tries are open only on certain
days, and interviews are con
ducted by phone and email.
The people served have changed, too. In
the beginning, they were mainly families
in extreme poverty with no savings. Now
many are families that had savings but
have used them up.
“People we would have never seen be
fore,” she said.
This year, for Thanksgiving and Christ
mas, instead of baskets of food, which re
quire over 100 volunteers to pack, CAC is
giving gift cards from grocery stores and
stores that sell toys.
Since becoming CEO, Carrera has seen a
multitude of changes.
“Early on, we were just trying to orga
nize and define ourselves,” she said. “We
knew the need was there and we were a
Band-Aid, but we had no idea if we were
having an impact because we didn’t have
the resources to do follow-up.”
In 2005, after moving to Hightower
Trail, they began creating individual plans
for each family and following up.
“Now we follow families at 30, 90 and
180 days to see if we’re making a differ
ence,” she said. “We know we’re essential.
If we disappeared, it would be devastating
to a lot of people.”
CAC is all of this and more. It’s a place
where people in need, who are often em
barrassed to receive assistance, are treated
with dignity and respect.
Anyone who has ever been involved
with CAC, as I was when I served on the
board, knows that the astonishing success
of the organization is the result of dedi
cated teamwork but ultimately due to the
commitment and leadership of one person
- Tamara Carrera.
Dedicated as always, she has promised
to stay until the board finds her replace
“CAC has been my life for a long time,”
she said. “It’s what I was meant to do.”
For more about CAC, see ourcac.org.