Calhoun County Family Connection Expands Literacy, Asks for Support

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By Lucille Lannigan
Apr 5, 2024 Updated Apr 5, 2024

EDISON – Literacy rates among Calhoun County’s school-aged children are low. Calhoun County Family Connection is working to change that.

Georgia Family Connection is the only statewide network in the U.S. dedicated to the health and well-being of families within communities. Each of Georgia’s 159 counties has its own Family Connection with unique programs to suit the needs of the county.

Amanda Farley took over as Calhoun County Family Connection coordinator in 2021. Calhoun has a population of about 5,000, according to the 2022 U.S. Census. Farley said the small size, along with Calhoun being a rural area and one of the poorest in the state, means resources are limited.

“To get anywhere, it’s a 45-minute drive; so a lot of our projects are centered around trying to bring things directly to citizens,” Farley said.

The Family Connection coordinator said when she saw statistics on the county’s literacy rates, she knew it was an area the organization had to focus in. Eight percent of elementary students, 8% of middle school students and 22% of high school students tested at or above the proficiency level for reading in the county, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 survey.

Farley said literacy is one of her focuses because it is connected to poverty levels. Forty-three percent of adults with the lowest literacy levels live in poverty in the U.S., according to the National Institute for Literacy.

“This is a very poor area,” she said. “At the root of everything, we come back to literacy and push that because literacy is the driving force of everything. Somebody’s projection of their life can be drawn back to that.”

Georgia Family Connection Collaboratives are in counties within Democratic U.S. Rep Sanford Bishop’s district received two-year grants in 2023 to support literacy initiatives through the Get Georgia Reading Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Calhoun County Family Connection received $34,000.

So Calhoun County Family Connection started partnering with the Calhoun County Child Development Center’s Head Start program. Each month, volunteers go to the Head Start classrooms and read to youths in the county. They also ensure each child goes home with a book.

Benny Flowers, the center’s director, said this helps with the “Let’s Read” program, which encourages parents to read with their children, track the books and make it a goal to read at least 15 books per month and 1,000 books by the time they start kindergarten.

Flowers said the children love the reading time.

“They really enjoy it; the teachers enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a blessing to have a book.”

The center serves children from infancy up to pre-K age. It also has programs to support pregnant mothers. Flowers said it’s important for young children to have this introduction to literacy.

“The earlier we start, the bigger their vocabulary will grow,” she said. “The more you read, the more places you will go, and the more you will want to read.”

Flowers said she’s seen a heightened excitement for books among the youths. Being able to read with people from Family Connection gives them a space to learn and ask questions about the books on an individual basis.

Calhoun County Family Connection also supports the Calhoun County Public Library, which is a hub for students.

Dianna Carter, Calhoun County’s librarian, said Farley is behind the library’s “Books for Bucks” program, where each time a child reads a book, they can receive a “buck” for it at the library. Once they hit 10 books, they can earn a prize or save up to earn larger prizes.

“So, we’re also teaching them a little about money management along the way,” Carter said.

The program began in the summer 2023, and Carter said it became very popular among the young readers.

“They were asking their parents to bring them into the library to get books,” she said. “And we don’t give (the bucks) just for the books that they check out at the library. If they read a book from home, they get credit for it. Reading is what we want them to do.”

She said she expects the program’s popularity to return in the upcoming summer. “It’s a really good program, and the kids love it,” Carter said.

She said the library wouldn’t be able to host the program and a number of other ones without Calhoun County Family Connection and Farley’s support. “She believes in the library and the importance of it,” Carter said.

Calhoun County Family Connection stocks small lending libraries with free books and nonperishables.

Calhoun County Family Connection also upkeeps lending libraries in each of Calhoun County’s cities. The libraries are stocked with free books as well as nonperishable food items.

“We have one grocery store for the whole county; so it’s considered a food desert. We try to keep the libraries full,” she said.

Beyond supporting youth literacy, the Calhoun County Family Connection has a number of other community-oriented support programs.

Farley said it hosts a Christmas program each year at which participants shop for Christmas gifts for Calhoun County kids. There’s also a Thanksgiving project where they give gift cards to the local grocery store to senior residents.

Farley said the organization is attempting to start a “Needs Closet” in July based on data from the recent ALICE Report. ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — refers to households that are earning more than the federal poverty level but not enough to afford the basics where they live.

In 2021, 31% of households in the county were ALICE households, and 23% were in poverty. Farley said this number is terrible and created the idea for a needs closet at county schools which include products like tooth paste, shampoo, soap and other necessities.

Farley said, overall, Family Connection has its hands in a lot of things throughout the county.

“We are small, and funds are limited but you know, we try to do as much as we can with the little that we do have, whether it’s literacy, poverty, health, whatever,” she said.

While the grant from Bishop’s office was a major help, Farley said Family Connection relies on community support.

“We have a really good community that always pulls through and sends us great donations, and that’s why we’re able to do these things,” she said.

Those interested can make donations to Calhoun County Family Connection by mailing a check or money order to Calhoun County Family Connection, P.O. Box 58, Edison, Ga. 39846. Interested persons can also get involved with the collaborative by emailing

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