Calhoun County Strikes Back at Generational Poverty through Book Project

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Jamcie Cotton and Kayla
102-year old Jamcie Cotton with friend and author Kayla of Calhoun County H.S.

Calhoun County Family Connection Collaborative and its partners are striking back at generational poverty in southwest Georgia.

“The best thing we can do from a preventive measure is teach our children how to be successful,” said Alicia Varnum, Collaborative coordinator. “Whatever we offer families and children here in Calhoun County reflects school—going to school, staying in school, and graduating on time.”

Varnum concluded that the best way to take control of the future was by turning to the past. So she requested funding from the United States Dept. of Juvenile Justice and the Office of Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (Ga 2nd District) to bring together the county’s untapped resource of senior citizens with at-risk youth in a mentoring project that promotes education, while capturing the stories of its most venerable residents in a book.

“The Calhoun County Family Connection Senior Citizen/Youth Book Project shows just what small investments can do when they are leveraged by committed, passionate, creative people,” said Bishop during a recent visit to the county. “I’m grateful for organizations like Family Connection that we can count on to mend the fabric of our nation’s families—one stitch at a time­—like these young people and seniors are doing.”

Students from Calhoun County High School spend time with senior citizens, interview them, and write the stories of their lives. This project provides a unique opportunity for youth to find inspiration from another generation.

“From the desire to inspire our students to finish high school was born the idea of the Senior/Youth Project,” said Susannah Cowart, Calhoun Memorial Hospital marketing director and Collaborative vice chair. “Our youth got in less trouble, disciplinary actions decreased, now they attend school more, and their grades have improved. They are interested not just in learning, but in excelling.”

A local benchmark the collaborative organization has targeted is reducing discipline referrals. This project enables Family Connection to track students for three years and keep their focus on the importance of attending school and graduating on time.

“Once I became acquainted with what Family Connection does, I was convinced that this was the kind of organization that can inform us and help us to be advocates for improving the quality of life for communities in our congressional district and across the state,” said Bishop. “You make a difference here because you work with a wide range of entities, both public and private.”

The Calhoun County Family Connection Collaborative has years of experience creating opportunities for families and children with little or no funds. According to Varnum it just takes determination and imagination.

“Where resources are few, ideas and dreams are big and rarely obtainable,” she said. “However, those ideas and dreams can become a reality when true collaboration takes place.”

Varnum credits the success of the Senior Citizen/Youth Book Project to all the local partners that came to the collaborative table:

  • Calhoun County Board of Commissioners
  • Calhoun Memorial Hospital
  • Calhoun County Board of Education
  • Calhoun County High School
  • Calhoun County Library
  • City of Arlington Police Department
  • Arlington Senior Center
  • Calhoun County UGA Extension Service
  • Calhoun County Health Department
  • Arlington Downtown Development Authority
  • Calhoun County Economic Development Council
  • Albany Technical College
  • West Foods

“Our hope for the future is that we’ve made an impact on the youth participating in this project,” said Varnum. “We will continue to encourage them to pursue their education and to build a successful life. Our collaborative is small, but mighty. We are looking at other ideas that will provide opportunities for our families and children by continuing to collaborate with local and regional partners.”

Watch video

Watch Sanford Bishop talk about the Senior Citizen/Youth Book Project

To learn more about the Senior Citizen/Youth Book Project, e-mail Alicia Varnum at

William Valladares
GaFCP Communications Manager

404-527-7394 (x114)