The annual luncheon and meeting for Region 7 of the Family Connection Partnership and the Georgia General Assembly was Tuesday, Sept. 20 at The Depot. Ten dignitaries from each of the seven counties met with Sen. Jim Whitehead to discuss the success of Family Connection, and ensure its continuance.
"I don't know any organization that I'm more behind than I am Family Connection," Sen. Whitehead said. "I'm very excited to be a part of this and try to help."
Mayors, sheriffs, superintendents of schools, and members of development authorities, chambers of commerce, boards of education, departments of juvenile justice, departments of family and children services, departments of labor, city councils, county commissions, and "one concerned citizen" (Peggy Barnett from Wilkes County) from Columbia, Elbert, Glascock, Lincoln, McDuffie, Warren and Wilkes Counties attended the meeting.
"The reason people in this room are here is they realize what a great organization this is. That they can achieve their jobs because of what you are doing," Sen. Whitehead said.
Family Connection Partnership is a statewide network of county collaboratives, which bring community partners together to address the serious challenges of poverty, teen birth, and incompletion of high school facing Georgia's children. The Partnership was created in 1991 in response to Georgia ranking 48th in the nation in child well-being.
Gaye Smith, executive director, said FCP is the largest network in the nation of local governing authorities. The partnership began with 15 counties, and now includes all 159 counties in the state. The Georgia General Assembly provides $50,000 annually to each of the local counties.
"We've moved from (ranking) 48 to 39. We're out of the bottom 10 states. It's good to be out of the basement, but we're still 39, and we have a ways to go," Ms. Smith said.
Ms. Smith said there are major gaps in Georgia based on a child's race, ethnicity, family income, and where they live. One in five children in the state live in poverty. Fifty-nine percent of those have one parent who is employed full-time.
Family Connection serves to see that Georgia's children are healthy, ready to start and succeed in school, and have stable, economically self-sufficient families
"They are our future tax-payers," said Willie Burns, mayor of Washington. "If we don't work with them now, we're creating a whole new level of poverty."
Joyce Blevins, director of the Workforce Investment Board in McDuffie County, agreed with Mayor Burns. "é─ÂIn jail, they'll cost us a lot more money," she said.
Sharon Williamson and Carol Jean Carey, Wilkes and Warren County representatives, told of the great success of their after-school programs. Scott Dean, mayor of Harlem, expressed frustration with a lack of participation from the Columbia County government. Joe Willis of Lincoln County told how the partnership enabled each agency to achieve their common goal, and asked Sen. Whitehead to make sure the funding would not stop from congress.
"I wish I could give y'all more money," Sen. Whitehead said. "I told the governor yesterday that if he'd give me his entire $17 million budget, then I think I could manage my seven counties. Do you know he had the nerve to laugh at me?"