Sweet Auburn Works Announces $450,000 Grant From Truist Foundation and Truist Trusteed Foundations To Support Entrepreneurs of Color, Honor Black Heroes Through Walking With Heroes Capital Campaign

Funding will help expand SPARK Lab small business accelerator program, create new Heroes Walk trail in Sweet Auburn Historic District
Feb 15, 2023 9:00 AM ET

ATLANTA, February 15, 2023 /3BL Media/ - Truist Foundation and the Truist Trusteed Foundations recently announced $450,000 in total grant funding awarded to Sweet Auburn Works (SAW), the preservation-based economic development organization charged with preserving, revitalizing and promoting Atlanta’s famed Sweet Auburn Historic District. The grants – provided by Truist Foundation and the Truist Trusteed Foundations: Florence C. and Harry L. English Memorial Fund – will support the signature initiatives of SAW’s first-ever capital campaign, Walking with Heroes. Funding will support the SPARK Lab, a retail accelerator program for existing and new entrepreneurs of color in Sweet Auburn, and the Heroes Walk, a forthcoming permanent 1.1-mile historical walking trail through Sweet Auburn, which will be dedicated to Atlanta’s Black heroes, past and present.

Through the SPARK Lab, Sweet Auburn Works Executive Director LeJuano Varnell works with local business owners to provide hands-on technical assistance; design interventions to beautify and improve physical storefronts and online retailers; and grants to implement said improvements. One current SPARK Lab participant of note is Chef Sonya Jones, owner of the beloved Sweet Auburn Bread Company, which has been doing business in Sweet Auburn for nearly three decades.

“Thanks to design support and funding from SPARK Lab, my space at 234 Auburn Ave. is currently undergoing renovations to make the nearly 500 square-foot bakery more efficient for business operations and customer patronage alike,” Chef Jones shared. “Through an innovative partnership between Sweet Auburn Works and the Savannah College of Art and Design, Executive Director Varnell led a class of marketing and business graduate students through drawing concepts for the renovation. Then I worked with the student cohort to agree on a final design. I can’t wait to see how their creative ideas improve my business!”

Donor funding for SPARK Lab paid for the upgrades, which will include new countertops, baking equipment, lighting and plumbing upgrades throughout the bakery. The SPARK Lab aims to support 20 or more entrepreneurs during its first three years of operation.

Complementing these customized business interventions is the forthcoming Heroes Walk, a historical walking trail that will stretch 1.1 miles, from the Jackson Street Bridge, down to Auburn Avenue and further south to Historic Oakland Cemetery. The Heroes Walk will pair new storytelling opportunities– both digital and physical – with public art and pedestrian amenities such as new tree canopy, benches, sidewalk improvements and bike lanes. Taken together, these improvements will draw locals and visitors alike deeper into the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, encouraging them to learn about historic and modern-day Black leaders who worked and lived in the district and to patron local businesses during their visit. With full campaign funding, the Heroes Walk is expected to break ground in 2023 and be completed in 2024.

These investments underscore Truist Foundation’s commitment to supporting innovative, community-driven approaches to help BIPOC-owned businesses thrive and further advance the foundation’s recently announced strategic initiative, Where It Starts.

“Truist Foundation believes bringing together entrepreneurs of color, partner organizations and community leaders to co-create solutions can be the start to breaking down systemic barriers for small business owners in the Sweet Auburn Historic District,” said Lynette Bell, president of Truist Foundation. “We are proud to contribute to Sweet Auburn Works’ Walking with Heroes campaign, which perfectly illustrates how the power of collaboration can honor a community’s history while dismantling deep-rooted inequities.”

“We are so grateful to Truist Foundation and Truist Trusteed Foundations for understanding how these two initiatives work together to bolster the local economy in Sweet Auburn, while also paying homage to our unique neighborhood’s rich history and present-day promise,” said Varnell.

About Truist Trusteed Foundations 

Truist Bank provides trustee services to private and family foundations, including the Florence C. and Harry L. English Memorial Fund. To learn more, visit truist.com/trusteed-foundations.

About Truist Foundation

Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation's (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Established in 2020, the foundation makes strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. Truist Foundation's grants and activities focus on building career pathways to economic mobility and strengthening small businesses. Learn more at truist.com/foundation.

About Sweet Auburn Works

Founded in 2012, Sweet Auburn Works’ mission is to preserve, revitalize and promote the commercial and cultural legacy of the Sweet Auburn Historic District. SAW represents the district’s land-owning stakeholders to ensure thoughtful, equitable redevelopment in the neighborhood; attract and retain business owners; support historic preservation efforts; and facilitate public and private stakeholder engagement in Sweet Auburn.