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State official signs off on local program

The State of Georgia has signed onto a partnership between local leaders that aims to improve the Bainbridge community by addressing issues affecting children and youth.

Mike A. Beatty, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, visited Bainbridge Friday morning to sign off on a contract between the state government and the governments of Bainbridge and Decatur County.

The contract will further enable the partnership begun earlier this year by the Family Connection Collaborative for the ESCAPE program (Elementary School Community Action Prevention Environment).

The ESCAPE program is an attempt to improve the local quality of life by addressing issues related to education and juvenile delinquency, which have been identified by citizens as important concerns.

According to Family Connection coordinator Ami Mejia, a total of 20 students from two different elementary schools were referred to ESCAPE by the school administration, and the parents voluntarily agreed to have their children participate. The program is in place at Potter Street Elementary and John Johnson Elementary.

ESCAPE is not a school program, but a community initiative, Mejia said. Elementary school-age students experiencing behavior problems that interferes with their ability to learn are identified and join the program, she said.

A coordinated network of community-based services and supports provide these students and their families with mentoring, tutoring, conflict resolution, parenting classes, information on the 40 developmental assets and linkages to local community services and youth development and enrichment activities.

According to Mejia, cost of the initiative for March 2009 through June 2010 is $26,885.

Approximately $13,560 is donated through in-kind services from Samaritan Counseling Center, which is providing the conflict resolution groups for the students. The remaining $13,325 is the cash cost. The Department of Community Affairs’ Communities of Opportunity Grant will provide $5,000, while the remaining $8,325 will be raised locally.

According to Beatty, studies have identified 274 counties with persistent poverty in the southeastern United States. Georgia has 91 of those counties.

Beatty said his agency is trying to help reduce and perhaps, eventually eliminate, poverty by supporting locally developed programs.

Every community is unique and needs a tailored solution that fits it, Beatty said.

“Of all the strategies we’ve looked at, [ESCAPE] is the most interesting and most challenging,” Beatty said. “We’re looking forward to working with you and making this a success so that the solution can be shared with other communities.”