Polk County Celebrates Two Decades of Nurturing Healthy FamiliesPrint This Post
BY LYNN PEISNER
Polk County Council for Children and Families rang in 2015 by celebrating its 20-year anniversary as a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative. Health, education, and local government leaders filled the Cedartown Civic Center in January to reflect on the Collaborative’s work over the past two decades, and to prepare for new work.
Collaborative partners also honored Rhonda Heuer at the event for 10 years coordinating Family Connection’s work in Polk County. Only one other coordinator held the post before her, which Heuer says is evidence that implementing this work in the community is more than a job, it’s a passion for creating healthier families.
“A lot of the problems we have in Polk County are the same problems they were 10 years ago,” Heuer said. “But we’re learning new ways to better approach and deal with the same issues.”
Heuer has forged relationships throughout the community to address the area’s persistent problems, chiefly meth addiction and child abuse and neglect. And as a cohort county for early-learning—grade-level reading, the Collaborative also is making inroads to engage the county’s growing population of Hispanic residents in early literacy efforts, as well as empowering young students with technology and greater access to books.
Customizing a route to healthier families and communities is all about working with what you have. And in Polk County, putting initiatives into action involves taking old buildings and reinvigorating them with new life and purpose—like One Door Polk.
The Polk County Collaborative, Floyd Medical Center, Cedartown-Polk County Hospital Authority, and Highland Rivers Health are collaborating to breathe new life into a building that Polk Medical Center left vacant in the heart of Cedartown. The plan is to improve access to the community’s most vulnerable citizens by hosting several social services in one building.
“I felt that if we’re all in the same building, where you can walk across the hall from one service to another, then you can really build those resources for families,” Heuer said. “This is just one example of what Family Connection collaboration is all about.”
Behavioral and physical health and social services are among the groups that will operate at One Door Polk, which is scheduled to open later this year.
Another building that got a second chance is the Polk Harralson Christian Life Center, known locally as Camp Antioch. Retired middle school science teacher Janice Stewart was instrumental in reinventing the dilapidated facility into a safe place for kids to study, and is expected to have wifi access available to the community—a rare commodity in rural areas. The 1940s-era structure was the site of a former camp retreat facility that was suffering from neglect and vandalism. Stewart spurred efforts to renovate the camp, add classrooms and generally update and refresh the buildings with the help of several community volunteers.
The camp was the site of the county’s 2014 Teen Maze, which Heuer says epitomizes what Family Connection is all about. Young adults navigating the Maze move from one station to another where they are required to make life choices. Consequences are played out in no-frills candor, including the realities of sexually transmitted diseases, drunk driving, jail time, and teen pregnancy and parenthood. The idea is to encourage young people to think reverently about their hopes and dreams, and to focus on friends they had to leave behind due to circumstances that were within their control.
In the realm of early learning—grade-level reading, Polk County is just beginning its efforts to move the needle on increasing reading proficiency rates. Inroads to improvement that are already underway include a Pre-K summer program for the public schools, which teaches bilingual vocabulary development and will host an upcoming Latino Literacy Fair, scheduled for May 30.
As Heuer looked back on a decade of supporting the Polk County Collaborative, she said the cornerstone of her work is building relationships. “Not only relationships with ‘important’ people, if you will, but with everyone. It’s about getting out in the community, about just being there, and never making assumptions about anyone.”
Learn more about Polk County Council for Children and Families.
Find out about the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and make your promise.