Bridging the Gap between Financial Hardship and Self-Sufficiency in Candler County

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Bridging the gap between financial hardship back to self-sufficiency: that’s how Candler County Family Connection Director Lisa Brown Rigdon describes The Bridge, an outreach center that offers food, clothing, household items, and financial assistance to over 500 families each year.

“The Bridge exemplifies Georgia Family Connection’s mission,” said Rigdon. “It came into existence through the collaboration of many community partners—and it continues to maintain itself through the same collaboration to help families and children become safe, healthy, and self-sufficient.”

The Bridge, formerly the Community Care Cottage, was founded in 1988 by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. When the facility sustained damage from a fire, Candler County Family Connection met with concerned citizens, local government, and businesses about finding a new home for the facility. Queensborough National Bank and Trust Company agreed to house the center above the bank, and the Collaborative reopened the outreach center in 2005.

“Without the leadership and manpower of Candler County Family Connection, this project would have probably been an afterthought,” said Dennis Allen, market president of Queensborough National Bank and Trust Company and Candler County Family Connection Board chair. ”Thankfully, the Collaborative recognized the struggle many families were facing and took the lead in reviving this program. I cannot begin to put into words the impact The Bridge has in our community.”

The Collaborative established strong partnerships with local churches in 2007 to streamline the process of providing assistance to neighbors in need. Candler County Family Connection acquired charity tracker software that tracks each person in the household and assistance received.

“We realized that many families coming to The Bridge are also going from church to church each month for assistance—but we want to help them get back on their feet,” said Rigdon. “Our goal is to review family budgets and see how we can help people find jobs, day care, after-school care, transportation, housing, and more.”

Rigdon obtained a Medicare license to help seniors with supplements. “I helped one neighbor update her insurance information to get a new hearing aid,” recalled Rigdon. “She came by to show it to me and tell me all the new noises she could hear, like the sound of water running.”

The Collaborative teams up with four local churches to provide Backpack Blessings—a program that provides chronically hungry children with food to take home over the weekend each week—to 100 students in grades K – 12, and Second Harvest provides monthly food boxes to clients. The center’s clothing closet sells items for a quarter, and all sales help provide supplies and programming.

“During the pandemic, The Bridge has been able to stay open, handing out food to less fortunate families,” said Allen. “Our community has rallied behind the Collaborative’s efforts with new volunteers emerging to help with food distribution and food drives to restock The Bridge’s shelves.”

Food boxes are now handed out and delivered on a weekly basis. The Bridge teamed up with Paws, Hearts, and Hands of Candler County and the Candler County Sheriff’s Office to provide pet food to residents and is partnering with a local church to deliver hot meals once a week to 100 seniors.

Local musician Clayton Hackle recently hosted an online concert to benefit The Bridge, and families are cleaning out their closets for a clothing sale fundraiser once the center fully reopens.

The Bridge also worked with the local 4H to spread words of encouragement throughout the community, delivering handmade yard signs and books to children in hospitals and youth homes, as well as to seniors who are in nursing homes or sheltering in place.

“We just wanted to let everyone know we’re here and will help however we can,” said Rigdon. “Our top needs are usually determined by being out in the community and listening, and I miss seeing everyone face to face more often. I think we’ll see increased needs in the next few months.”

The Bridge is meeting with churches on a plan to offer summer meals to children and families after the county’s school meal program concludes at the end of June.

Candler County Family Connection also plans to expand resources and services for children birth – 4, with First Steps Georgia serving as the steppingstone to determine the resources and services needed to ensure young children are primed for school. Rigdon is even planning to train her family’s new goldendoodle as a therapy dog to work with children.

“We’re already serving families through outreach, and we’re reaching school-aged kids through Backpack Blessings and afterschool programs—yet our literacy rate still hasn’t improved,” said Rigdon. “We believe that by focusing on our youngest kids, we can detect issues in a child’s development or home life and provide intervention early, ultimately leading to school readiness.”

Contact:

Krystin Dean
GaFCP Communications Specialist
706-897-4711
[email protected]


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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.