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Blank leads Falcons' volunteer initiative

Associated Press Modified: May 4, 2012 at 3:17 am •  Published: May 4, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) — Just two miles west of the Georgia Dome, the Atlanta Falcons are bringing hope to one of the city's most troubled zip codes.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank joined 180 volunteers from his family businesses on Thursday to improve conditions in a neighborhood — "The 30314" — that has too many problems to overcome by itself.

Tony Johns, COO of the nonprofit City of Refuge, says no community in Georgia has a higher rate of homicides, drug transactions, poverty and children from single-adult homes. Only 49 percent of the neighborhood's high school kids graduate.

"A lot of markers here, along with having the highest rate of infectious diseases and highest infant mortality," Johns said. "In fact, our infant mortality rate is higher than many African nations."

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and his entire staff worked to double the size of the City of Refuge's garden space, build an indoor playground in the nonprofit's warehouse and improve onsite residences for single women and approximately 80 homeless children.

Smith helped build benches and haul mulch. Dimitroff and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan helped construct and raise a retaining wall.

Team president Rich McKay helped paint a wall mural for a 6,000-square-foot indoor playground funded by a $60,000 grant from Blank's foundation.

No players were present, but that hardly affected the spirit of Dimitroff, who just one week ago was immersed in the NFL draft.

"Yes, you're doing everything involved with putting a team together — the financial side and personnel side — and then you jump outside into something like this, it's so incredibly heartwarming," Dimitroff said. "It's something that touches everyone at so many levels."

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