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Yarbrough: A salute to one trying to make this a better world
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One cut at a time

By: Darrell Everidge

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A wise man once said that our only reason for occupying space on this earth is to leave things better than we found them. Unfortunately, not enough of us will. Len Pagano is an exception.

Pagano is president and CEO of Marietta-based Safe America Foundation, an organization he founded some 20 years ago. Its stated purpose is “to work with corporate, governmental, public and private sector organizations, and other nonprofits to improve the safety awareness and preparedness of Americans nationwide.” In other words, to make this a better world.

One of the joys of management is akin to that of a gardener. You plant the seeds in those within your charge, nurture them and hope they blossom. I have lost count of the number of people I supervised over my career but it has been a bunch. Some prospered — maybe in spite of my management — and some didn’t. Len Pagano is one who did: Starting as a college intern in my organization at Southern Bell to a career in broadcasting to a chamber of commerce executive to the creation of Safe America Foundation in the mid-1990s.

Under his direction, Safe America Foundation has had a significant role in matters of safety and preparedness from teen driving to the distribution of and education about child car seats to how to cope with emergencies, be they tornadoes or terrorist attacks.

Now comes a new effort from the organization. It is called “Welcome Home, Heroes,” focused on members of the military returning from Afghanistan.

Pagano says, “People spend a lot of time talking about our veterans but with so many efforts spread among several dozen nonprofits, we are not effectively mobilizing our resources. We need to put our collective egos aside and put in our hearts instead.” He hopes the Georgia program can be a prototype to take into other cities across the country.

On November 8, The Safe America Foundation and Georgia National Guard will hold a workshop for returning Georgia National Guard men and women at the new Delta Flight Museum in Hapeville, near Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. Titled “Redeployed at Home,” this will the first of an ongoing series of seminars designed to help military recently back from Afghanistan and other assignments abroad.

With assistance from corporate sponsors Atlanta Medical Center, ServIT, Sprint, Allstate, and Clearpoint, the agenda includes topics designed to help veterans on how to find jobs, handle their finances and deal with other domestic issues as well establishing a service center that will seek to provide immediate assistance and/or advice on where servicemen and women can turn for help.

Pagano says over 100 veterans recently returned from Afghanistan are being invited to the initial workshop, along with another 350 who recently lost their jobs through cutbacks in the National Guard’s federal funding.

Program chair Program Chairman Tony Merendino, CEO of ServIT in Kennesaw, said the goal is to help keep the veterans from despairing. “A number of soldiers come home facing serious problems,” Merendino said. He cites one example of a veteran who slept in her car in Cobb County for over a week because she had no place to live. “This is a tragedy we need to address,” he says. “I believe that everyone who has served our country deserves to come home to a decent standard of living and not be left homeless or near the poverty level.”

Meredino, along with co-host Clayton County Commission Chair Jeff Turner, are seeking corporate and individual sponsors to help get the veteran’s program launched as a model program for our veterans.

Concurrent with the Nov. 8 event for veterans, The Safe America Foundation will celebrate its 20 years of service at the Delta Flight Museum that evening with a gala dinner and awards ceremony and a look at all the good works engendered by the organization and its sponsor partners and volunteers.

You can tell I am a bit proud of Len Pagano and what he has done over two decades with his brainchild, The Safe America Foundation. The past 20 years have not been easy ones for him and his family, given the vagaries of an unpredictable economy and the changing priorities of corporate sponsorships. Through it all, he has persevered in his determination to improve the lives of a lot of people, including now our veterans. Len Pagano is going to leave this a better world that he found it. I am glad to have been around to see him do it.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at or on Facebook at