For the past five years, the Family Resource Center of Northeast Georgia has provided life-transforming services to families in Northeast Georgia. To celebrate the milestone, the local nonprofit held an open house on April 14, showcasing its newly decorated family visitation facilities. The open house coincided with National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Leigh Johnston, the chair of FRC’s board of directors, led efforts to update the Clarkesville facility. The rooms of the Center, located at 122 Laurel Drive, have been painted a lighter color, and the three living room areas have been updated. A dining room has also been set up with the kitchen.
The goal was to provide an example of how families can live and relate in a family setting. The center also has an outdoor play area.
The three visitation rooms are used seven days a week and host 40 families each week. The family sessions last from one to four hours, a time limit set by the court system. One of the highly trained staff observers is present for each session, providing training to the parents and a safety net for the children. Each room offers comfortable living room furniture for snuggling and interaction and floors covered with rugs for playtime. The center also offers a kitchen and dining room for meals and a bathtub where new moms can learn how to bathe an infant safely.
According to Aly Johnson, Visitation and Contracts Administrator, this process of supervised visitation and support resources has made a difference in these families.
“In the past three months, eleven families have been reunified. We believe that everyone deserves a chance at reuniting their families,” says Johnson. “It has been incredibly life-changing for me to see what can happen through our resources.”
The work continues outside the FRC through Home Visits. Melanie Allen serves as the Home-Visiting Program Coordinator. In some cases, families have in-person conferences at the FRC for four weeks and then phone conferences for the next four weeks.
How the Family Resource Center came to be
The Family Resource Center was birthed in 2016 from a need expressed by Suzanne Dow, the director of Circle of Hope, and Shannon Williamson, the Interim Director of the Department of Family and Children Services for Habersham and Rabun Counties. They felt safety issues needed to be addressed for children and victims of abuse when court-ordered supervised visitation took place. At that time, supervised visitation was taking place at the DFACs office or restaurants and playgrounds throughout the community. The overriding question was whether these places provided a fair opportunity for estranged parents to practice parenting in safety. Both Dow and Williamson saw a desperate need for a place that allowed for observation, training, and counseling as well.
The overall desire was to provide a safe place where children could develop relationships and families had the chance to be reunited.
The need was presented in February 2016, just months after Jennifer Stein became the Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse of Habersham (PCAH). Stein began with three questions: What could PCAH do to meet the need? What would that look like? And, what different models already existed? She and PCAH’s board pored over all the material available and found possible grants. Stein also began developing relationships and partnerships within the Mountain Judicial Circuit, the Superior Court, the Sheriff’s Department, and DFACs.
The Family Resource Center (FRC) was opened in the fall of 2016 and was one of only two such centers in the state of Georgia. Stein explains, “FRC was ahead of its time. It was possible because the community rallied behind the idea of providing a safe haven for families to seek help and support.” Stein has been overwhelmed by the support FRC has received from the community, DFACs, and the Judicial System. She points out, “It really does take a village for this kind of service to be created and funded.”
How the Family Resource Center has evolved
The Family Resource Center began by providing a safe place for visitation but quickly expanded with more resources to help hurting families. The families that come to them now are not only those who have been ordered to do so but also want to strengthen their families now.
Besides visitation facilities and observers, FRC offers parenting classes, counseling services, and support groups. To provide the level of resources needed, FRC added a second location in February 2018. The Annex, the second location, provides space for classes, conferences, and counseling.
How you can seek help from the Family Resource Center
The Family Resource Center’s website provides information on all their services and how you can take advantage of them. Linda Johnson, the new Executive Director of FRC, emphasizes what they want people to know about the center: “The center is a safe haven, and we genuinely care about the families who come here. We are non-judgmental towards whatever brings families here. Our goal is to help families and keep the children safe.”
Johnson acknowledges that, by the time parents or caregivers seek help, they are already really stressed. “Stressed people deserve to feel safe, respected, and helped,” she says. “It is important that they know that no one is judging them. We want to create a caring environment that encourages a positive family experience for them during this stressful time.”
How you can support the work of the Family Resource Center
The Family Resource Center is 80 percent funded through grants. That means 20 percent of costs have to be raised through donations and fundraisers. Going through a year of COVID-19, in which most of their fundraising events couldn’t take place, has left the center’s finances in need.
Consider making a monetary donation to the FRC. You can donate online with a one-time or monthly donation or mail a donation to the Family Resource Center of Northeast Georgia at 122 N. Laurel Drive, Clarkesville, GA 30523.
You may also drop off donations at one of the FRC locations by calling Linda Johnson at 770-335-0229.