Twenty Years in FOCUS—A Celebration of Service to Cherokee County

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Harry Johnston, chair, Cherokee County Board of Commissioners and Sonia Carruthers, Cherokee FOCUS executive director

Cherokee FOCUS (Families of Cherokee United in Service) recently celebrated 20 years as the county’s Georgia Family Connection Collaborative bringing the community together to accomplish mutual goals that better the lives of children and families.

“Our Collaborative identifies community needs and develops strategies to meet those needs, ultimately reaching goals for the well-being of our community,” said Cherokee FOCUS Executive Director Sonia Carruthers. “Hundreds of people come to our table and they each bring skills, expertise, and resources to create and develop programs and initiatives designed to support families and children through a means that no individual, agency, or organization could accomplish alone.”

Cherokee FOCUS is a partnership of organizations, agencies, civic clubs, the faith-based community, law enforcement, business, education, families, and individuals. These partners create and develop programs and initiatives designed to support families and children—reducing and preventing youth substance abuse, enhancing educational opportunities, and improving housing alternatives for a stronger Cherokee County.

“When our Collaborative members and our sub-coalitions succeed,” said Carruthers, “the community succeeds, the children succeed, and we all have a brighter future.”

That hope for a brighter future is what motivated the Collaborative’s fiscal agent to support the Collaborative 20 years ago.

“When Sonia started FOCUS and asked us to be the Collaborative’s fiscal agent, we thought, let’s just take a chance,” said Harry Johnston, chair of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. “Surely she’ll do good with it. And she has. Whenever anyone asks me how to get involved to help someone in Cherokee County, I say, ‘Look up Cherokee FOCUS. Go to a meeting. You’ll find someone to help there.’ Sonia pulls them all together. And without her, the work would be happening, but at a much lesser level.”

From left: Calev Ductant of the Drug-Free Cherokee Initiative, Sonia Carruthers, and Todd Hayes

Cherokee FOCUS initiatives include:

  • Drug Free Cherokee
    Local youth-serving organizations, business, law enforcement, civic organizations, health care, schools, media, faith community, government agencies, substance abuse organizations, parents, and youth work together to develop and implement initiatives to prevent drug and alcohol use among youth in the community.
  • Cherokee County Youth Council
    A committee of diverse area youth convened by Drug Free Cherokee tackle substance use issues facing youth in Cherokee County. Leaders in grades 9-12 develop an annual strategic plan for preventing and reducing alcohol and drug abuse among their peers and act as advisors to the Drug Free Cherokee coalition.
  • Cherokee Youth Works
    Cherokee Youth Works believes in a holistic approach to working with youth addressing youth’s needs and building on their strengths.Youth attend GED, life skills and work readiness classes, participate in educational field trips, learn about career opportunities, and are assisted in employment and college entrance. Cherokee Youth Works also provides 12 months of follow-up after exit to ensure that youth maintain employment or college enrollment.
  • Cherokee County Suicide Prevention Coalition
    This coalition prevents deaths by suicide in the county by bringing awareness and education to the community, decreasing the stigma associated with mental illness, and bringing hope for a brighter future. The coalition, launched in 2019 in response to the rise in deaths by suicide, is comprised of court systems, community organizations, education, government, law enforcement and investigative agencies, mental health agencies, religious organizations, senior services, suicide prevention advocates, and veteran services organizations.

“I reached out to Sonia during my senior year in high school and went through the program, even though I still felt lost,” said Calev Ductant of Drug Free Cherokee. “I’m in graduate school now and trying to imbue into the kids who may be in tough situations, those who fall through the cracks, the mentality to help people in their community, to find outlets and ways to affect positive change.”

The Georgia Family Connection Collaborative also will host a Mental Health Awareness Summit in 2022 and created a community resource directory organized into categories: family and children; health care and wellness; business and education; food, housing, and other assistance; and fellowship and service.

Kevin Williams, past chair, Cherokee County Board of Directors, gives opening remarks at the Collaborative’s 20-year celebration of service

“The journey Cherokee FOCUS is on with families gets messy sometimes,” said Kevin Williams, past chair, Cherokee FOCUS Board of Directors. “We do all the work to plan and then things go sideways. That’s just life. We have the opportunity as parents, a community, a Collaborative organization to come together feeling renewed that today’s a new day to start over. When we do that and think boldly about how we’re going to serve others—even in the mess—that changes everything.”

Bill Valladares
GaFCP Communications Director

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