Photo: Karen Starks, PhD, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Founder of IdeaSpace Career Training Center


Karen Starks, PhD, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, knew she wanted to start a “business training center” to help teens and adults make sound career choices.

She was driving around Snellville when she spied an abandoned Waffle House building within walking distance from South Gwinnett High School.

“It was convenient for the teens,” she says, “and it had a kitchen. If you have ever been around teens, you know they like to eat!”

The building had been closed for seven years, and it needed a lot of work. She heard about ACE on National Public Radio. “ACE covered 80 percent of the building costs and some equipment purchases,” she says. “Everyone at ACE has been so helpful.”

Starks teamed up with architect Voranath Chanthavong of NKK Design and Build Inc. to refurbish and remodel the building into a sleekly modern facility that opened in September.  She chose the name IdeaSpace Career Training Center, because it will offer a versatile array of services for people who are unemployed, underemployed, or seeking certification in their fields.

Starks wears many hats in her work. “Basically, what I try to do is help people get on that first rung on the employment ladder to start their climb,” she says. “Or if they already have the job skills, training to get them up to the next level”. She also teaches the Willie Dell Career Credo. “It helps trainees take career risks based on preparation, curiosity, and a good sense of their personal strengths.”

Currently, Starks provides supervision to social workers who want to become clinicians and continuing education classes.  In addition, she provides workshops on her book, My Beautiful Brown Boy, which helps children affirm their ethnic identity. “The workshops on my book are especially for those working with young children at adoption and child-care agencies,” she says.

Starks is ServSafe-certified and plans to offer courses for restaurant employees in the proper handling of food and employment for teens. “My plan is to employ kids in a summer lunch program in 2018.”  Karen currently provides lunch to the SGHS Volleyball and Basketball teams in summer training. The teens especially like her Kool-Aid and the sandwiches help curb their hunger after a long practice.

Along with her other duties, Starks is an assistant professor at the University of Alabama School of Social Work, teaching online and on-campus classes during the academic year. “My dissertation topic was urban entrepreneurship,” she says. “As an extension of my dissertation, I started Community Entrepreneurship Institute Inc.  in Birmingham and I wanted to continue the program in the Atlanta area. I just want to do work that gives back to my community.”



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