For Lamisha Adams, the idea of self-care may have seemed like a lofty goal with 13 children under age 18. The 36-year-old and her husband are raising her six children and his seven, of which he gained full custody three years ago. But as a founding member of the Parent Ambassador Committee (PAC) created by the Rome-Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth, Adams is learning how to care for herself in order to take the best care of her family.
“When we get together, we come up with ideas to help parents in the community—including ourselves,” Adams said. “For me, it was about learning how to get outside of my comfort zone so I could help and encourage others by reaching out to see how they’re doing and what they need.”
The PAC originated during a virtual Civic Dinner held last June, and it brings to the forefront a voice that LaDonna Collins, executive director of the Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, said was sorely missing, particularly from residents within the 1-mile radius between south and east Rome, commonly referred to as the Community of Hope.
It’s an area that is emblematic of the struggles within the county. Floyd’s rate of child abuse and neglect in 2019 (5.6 per 1,000) was notably higher than the state’s average (3.9 per 1,000), according to KIDS COUNT data. “Some people may feel there is no hope in the community,” said Collins. “But there’s always hope in the people who live there.”
The Collaborative, and its participation in the Georgia Family Connection Partnership Family Support Cohort, has been instrumental in igniting the flame of hope that’s spreading among the residents of Rome.
“While the Collaborative was successful in partnering with organizations that provided resources to families, I realized early on that the families we were working to serve were not included in the dialogue,” said Collins, who stepped into her role two years ago.
The Collaborative’s office is located within the Restoration Rome Center for Foster Care Services, so Collins sees daily the challenges at-risk and underserved families and children face. When few families showed up for Hope Fest 2019, an event at the Center showcasing resources and support programs, Collins knew change was needed.
“We must remember the saying, ‘Nothing for us without us.’ No organization that works with families and children should ever do anything for a parent without the parent’s input,” said Collins. “As program providers, we often feel we know what’s best for the parents, but that’s not always the case. I know from lessons learned that we can’t do anything without having parents not only at the table, but in the highest seat at the table.”
Collins invited families to participate in a virtual Civic Dinner in June 2020. “The parents on the call were excited about wanting to do something for their community,” Collins said. This event led to the creation of a Parent Ambassador Committee. The work began that night.
Collins asked the parents about concerns within the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. She learned that children were using their idle time to vandalize the neighborhood. Parents asked if COVID-19 relief funds could be used to purchase sports balls, board games, and cards so the parents could engage in productive activities with the youth.
The PAC also helped organize a Back 2 School Bash during the pandemic that distributed book bags, hand sanitizer, gloves, and other items to more than 200 families.
The inaugural PAC has eight members who meet monthly to discuss how they can best be served by the Collaborative and the community. One request was to attend classes to help them become better parents and restore relationships with law enforcement and the Division of Family and Children Services.
“A majority of the parents have had some encounter with these agencies and wanted to heal their anger,” said Collins. Every other month a representative from various organizations speaks to the group. In the off months, a life coach works with them on parenting and coping skills, as well as how to be effective leaders and communicators.
Adams, who has lived in Rome for more than 20 years, is grateful to be part of the PAC. “The whole experience has been rewarding, and working with the life coach has been awesome,” she said. “We learn a lot about working on ourselves first because you have to get yourself together before you can help others. The life coach has given us the tools to go out and do that.”
The goal is that the ambassadors will embed what they’ve learned within the community. “These parents are getting so much from the program that it really is starting to change their lives,” Collins said. “And it empowers them to share what they’ve learned with their neighbors.” There’s a waiting list of parents to join the next PAC, which will continue thanks to a $5,000 grant from Georgia Power.
The PAC is one of several programs supporting Rome families. Others include:
- YMCA after-school/summer feeding program;
- Circle of Security parenting classes;
- Stewards of Children—Darkness to Light prevention training program;
- Seeking Solutions supervised visitation; and
- Fatherhood Program through Tallatoona Head Start, which gives fathers the opportunity to bring their children to school, participate in classroom activities, and meet with fellow dads to discuss a variety of issues.
A former teacher and public health educator, Collins described the Collaborative’s Family Support Cohort work as being the “guide from the side.” “Whatever ideas the parents come to us with, we guide them from the side, but we let them make the decisions,” she said.
In the second quarter of this year, the Collaborative focused its monthly team meetings on the topic of child abuse and neglect. Partner organizations were asked in April to consider three questions:
- What is your organization doing right now that will help decrease child abuse and neglect in our community?
- What more can you do?
- If you’re not doing anything, where can you start?
The partners reconvened in May to review the actions they had taken, and a meeting will be held in June at the Exchange Club Family Resource Center to see the work being done there.
The meetings’ theme changes each quarter depending on the needs of the community. “My goal for Rome is that we all must be intentional about thinking outside the box to support other agencies,” Collins said. “That’s how we break the silo. That is how we collaborate and partner.”
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Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public-private partnership created by the State of Georgia and investors from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families. Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that impact Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities.