Rotary hears from Decatur County Family Connection

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Every county in Georgia has a Family Connections unit. The one in Decatur County has been in place for 25 years and is overseen by Ronnie Burke who is the second director. He spoke to Rotary this week about the varied work of the organization and how it is funded. The money for his salary comes from the state, and he is the sole employee; otherwise the activities are made possible from grants and fundraisers.

Burke said they are probably best known for their backpack program that currently is sending eight students home every Friday with a backpack of food for the weekend; but by the end of the year they could be supporting as many as 100 students. “It helps people get back on their feet and often when they do they will send a check or come help pack the bags.”

He cited child poverty as a big problem in Decatur County, where many come to school unprepared, hungry and without necessary supplies. He quoted that 55 percent of kids come from single parent families, a growing trend statewide.

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Another problem they regularly address is sexual abuse. Workshops are held to  raise awareness of sexual abuse—how to recognize it and address it.

The importance of reading for children has resulted in an ongoing literary program that addresses the problem on several fronts. Family Connections often pays for books, distributes them to families and daycare centers and to almost any who work with families. This led to a great idea of taking an old band bus, repainting it and making it into a Reading bus loaded with books. It often is parked at school functions and taken to housing developments so families have access to books to read to small children.

Family Connections also helps GED students, who take the GED courses free, but paying for the testing can be expensive. FC picks up the tab on those.

Burke said wherever they see a need, and people strugging, they step up to help. This includes aid to after school programs, helping the Food Bank at the Methodist Church, coordinating a food drive around Thanksgiving, help with Kids N Kops program,

The big area of assistance came after Hurricane Michael when the district was awarded $60,000 for hurricane relief. At that point Debby McIntyre volunteered her services to help coordinate that program. As they reviewed the needs, they realized they would have difficulty helping so many individuals in need with that amount of money, so a focus group decided to put the money into places that were already helping individuals. This list included Decatur County Senior Center who supplied 4500 meals, the YMCA to clean up trees, and allowed folks to come in and take showers. The Decatur County Schools gave out a bundle of cash cards for food and supplies to those in need, while The Salvation Army served over 58,000 meals. McIntyre said one of the biggest problems identified were of mental health issues. This is an ongoing problem and McIntyre believes the impact will be felt for a long time. Samaritan Counseling has seen an increase of people seeking help with mental health issues.