After one month in her job, the new Executive Director of Partners for Success has started giving presentations to the local civic clubs. Miriam Smith, who began the first of September as the PFS director, was the keynote speaker at Monday's Kiwanis Club. Mrs. Smith said she will be presenting at the Rotary Club later this month.
"I know that my family goes way back in Thomson, and I love my community, but I have always worked outside the county," Mrs. Smith told the Kiwanians. "So, when the opportunity for this position became available, I was thrilled. ... I can take all my experiences that I've learned outside the county and bring them home to my community."
Prior to being named to this position, Mrs. Smith worked as an education consultant for Richmond County, was a licensed insurance agent, a college math instructor of 10 years for Augusta Technical College and the associate center director for Sylvan Learning Center in Augusta.
"I know business and networking, and all the education stuff," Mrs. Smith said in an interview. "I know how to assess the needs. I'm the local person. There's a lot of things that I provide. ...If you want something done in McDuffie County, you go to Partners For Success."
Mrs. Smith replaces Karen Griffin, who left PFS in June to become the Associate Director of Hope House in Augusta.
PFS is a community collaborative whose mission is to create a quality of life for all citizens of the county by supporting and encouraging the development of healthy, stable families.
The organization brings in grant funds to support K-12 mentoring, reading tutoring, First Steps for new parents, community domestic violence and substance abuse preventions programs, support groups for teen parents and young parents, prenatal programs, life skills training, abstinence education programs, the MEEPS After School Program, summer school programs, tobacco use prevention classes, the Dearing Good Samaritan Health Clinic and vision care for children.
"What we do is identify your needs in McDuffie County. Then I have to find the funding througth grants and donations, and volunteers to meet those needs," Mrs. Smith said. "We also do testing to see what differences are being made. ... Our monitoring is how the state gets their numbers."
During her presentation, Mrs. Smith said the teen pregnancy rate, illiteracy rate and rate of single moms are higher in McDuffie County than the state averages, while the median income is lower.
"And many of them drop out of school when they get pregnant and do not graduate. So, you see how all these numbers work together," she said.
Although the rates presented a grim outlook, Mrs. Smith's was anything but.
"But guess what," she said with a bright smile. "I have a grant, and that means I can provide programs to address the issues and incentives to attend the programs."
She shared success stories of families that PFS has helped recently. One, of a family where the father was incarcerated and the children removed from the home by the Department of Family and Children Services.
Mrs. Smith shared how PFS went to the home and worked with the mother with parenting classes, anger management, life skills training, budgeting and goal-setting. When the children were returned to the home, PFS provided mentors for each child.
"That's what we do, we're Partners For Success," she said. "Zell Miller started it back in the 90s because there were duplicating agencies trying to get funds for the same things in the state. We are your source for McDuffie County."
Mrs. Smith emphasized that all the funds received from the grants are used only in McDuffie County. The best thing she likes about the job is there are no boundaries when it comes to the people the organization can help and the money they can apply for.
The two biggest obstacles Mrs. Smith said the organization faces are a lack of volunteers and a lack of knowledge in the community of what PFS does.
"One of our biggest things, of course we're wanting to make a difference in the community by providing services that otherwise may not be available to those families that need it," she said. "But then, secondly to build the community awareness, so that the community better knows how to help."
Right now, PFS is in need of mentors for students in each of McDuffie County's schools. All it takes is 20-30 minutes, one day each week, Mrs. Smith said. She said mentors are needed for all ages, but especially for the high school level. For more information, call PFS at 706-595-3112.
partners2.eps -- CUTLINE: From left, Executive Director Miriam Smith, Gail Taylor, Dawn Anderson, Fran Whittle, Beverly Dunn and Assistant Director Tamica Collins pose for a staff photo.