Author: Kent Hannon

Published

Brad Brizendine
Brad Brizendine is part of the leadership team at Athens PBJs, which dispenses both food and friendship to homeless people in Athens-Clarke County.

Brad Brizendine was a pretty good basketball player at the Lovett School in Atlanta. He scored 21 points in a victory over Grady High his senior year, and his dream upon entering UGA was to make the varsity basketball team as a walk-on. He sat out his freshman year in Athens but summoned the courage to try out as a sophomore — and he made the team.

"The one UGA experience I will always remember is running out onto the court with the team before games," says Brizendine, who is set to graduate as a finance major in spring 2009. "It was such a cool feeling to hear the music playing and all the fans cheering."

As it turned out, the cheering ended after one season when Brizendine was cut from the team to make room for players on scholarship. But instead of feeling sorry for himself because his college basketball career was short-lived, Brizendine saw it as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

"One night, over Christmas break 2007, a friend and I were sitting around talking about the problems of poverty and homelessness in America," says Brizendine. "And we decided that we were tired of just talking about it. We were going to do something about it!"

Brizendine and Terry accounting major Robert Thrasher went to an Atlanta grocery store and, using their own money, bought bread, peanut butter, jelly, raisins, chips, cookies, bottled water, and brown paper bags.

"We made 18 lunches and drove around downtown Atlanta delivering meals to homeless people two days before Christmas," says Brizendine, who plans to attend law school after graduation. "I'm a member of Chi Phi fraternity, and because of the fraternity's philanthropic activities I knew there were homeless people with similar needs in the Athens community."

Thinking they would be more effective if they applied their business skills to their new enterprise, Brizendine and Thrasher started a nonprofit organization called Athens PBJs — and they've been dispensing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless ever since.

"We delivered about 1,200 meals in our first three months of existence," says Brizendine. "Through donations and a benefit concert at Nowhere Bar, we have raised more than $8,000 to continue this effort. We now have about 30-40 active volunteers who deliver meals to homeless people in the Athens community."

A third Terry student, finance major Jonathan Hull, is also part of the leadership team at Athens PBJs, which has a larger purpose in mind with regard to Athens' homeless population.

"I was surprised to learn that Athens homeless shelters aren't open to individuals all year long," says Brizendine. "Our dream is to raise enough money and get enough committed volunteers together to help create a full-time homeless shelter that would be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

The Athens Homeless Shelter is open year round, but it can only handle six families with children at a time — and it doesn't take individuals. The Salvation Army operates year round, but it is just an overnight shelter. Interfaith Hospitality is a faith-based shelter, but it normally houses only one family at a time.

To make up for what social welfare agencies cannot provide, Athens PBJs is currently getting together at 1 pm on Sundays to make brown bag meals. They meet their volunteer teams at 2 pm at The Grill on College Avenue. From there, the brown bag meals are distributed to homeless people downtown and to the two main areas where homeless people congregate in appreciable numbers — "Tent City" near the intersection of Lexington Road and the Athens Bypass, and the North Avenue bridge.

"The people are so appreciative," says Thrasher, whose father, Ken Thrasher (BBA 1973, MAcc 1974) is a member of Terry's Alumni Board. "They know our names, we know theirs, and over time our mission at Athens PBJs has changed a bit. We will continue to dispense food so that these people — many of whom have jobs — can use the $5 they would have spent on lunch to take care of themselves and their families. We now see food as a medium or a bridge to develop friendships."