Katherine W. Gray Resource Center Opens Doors for Laurens County Community

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Former juvenile court judge Bill Tribble had a vision for a center that would provide resources to struggling families in Laurens County, where 30.7% of children live in poverty, compared to Georgia’s average of 17.2%—and 41.3% of families with children earn an annual income less than 150% of the federal poverty line, compared to 25.5% in Georgia.

Laurens County City Councilman Bennie Jones took Tribble’s vision a step further by visiting resource centers in Savannah to gather insight. He pitched the idea to County Commissioner Brenda Chain, who shared the vision with Dublin/Laurens Commission on Children, Youth and Families and Communities In Schools (CIS) in Laurens and Twiggs Counties.

“I’m a tax preparer, and I’ve seen so many people who have come through my office who aren’t making enough money to even take care of their family,” said Chain. “And I know these people could do better if they had better access to resources. Family Connection brings us in, which allows us to be more able to do what we need to do for those we serve. And that’s what we all are—servants of this community.”

After mapping out a strategy and putting it into action, that vision became reality.

The community was polled to gauge their needs, which revealed that access to services was the top priority. Laurens County doesn’t have public transportation, so residents use the local cab company or schedule transportation to services through a van provided by CIS.

“One huge barrier is the location of the health department from underprivileged neighborhoods,” Smith said. “Another is that our technical college is way out on Highway 441, so people who want to earn a GED diploma often don’t have the means to get there. And our library is in the middle of town. You may think that’s easy to get to—but if you don’t have transportation, five miles is far.”

Dublin/Laurens Commission on Children, Youth and Families, a Georgia Family Connection Collaborative, received funding via Georgia Family Connection Partnership from the Division of Family and Children Services Prevention and Community Support to establish a family resource center—while CIS received funding from State of Hope and the City of Dublin.

“Our two organizations decided to collaborate to achieve more together,” said Connie Smith, who’s worked with Jackie Pittman Curtis, executive director for CIS in Laurens and Twiggs counties, for more than 20 years.

The City of Dublin donated a building to CIS that previously housed the natural gas department, along with $72,000 for renovations and improvements. The structure sits across the street from Katie Dudley Village, one of the community’s housing projects on the south side of Laurens County.

“Georgia Family Connection is the conduit that brings everyone together at one table,” said Curtis, who also serves as the Collaborative’s board chair. “I like to work smarter, not harder—and so to be able to come to a meeting and say, ‘I’m working on this project’ and have everyone at the table say, ‘I can help in this way,’ is beneficial.”

Planting Supports and Services in One Place

Dedicated board members like Jones have established and cultivated partnerships to ensure that the center addresses the community’s complex needs.

“We have lots of resources for our children, but strengthening the family starts with the parents,” said Jones. “If parents don’t have resources or feel comfortable accessing them, they’re not going to encourage their kids to get involved. Young parents need help learning how to raise a family. It takes a village, so we wanted to bring resources to the village.”

The Katherine W. Gray (KWG) Resource Center officially opened on Nov. 18, 2023, planting those much-needed resources and services within one walkable location.

  • Communities In Schools provides youth enrichment and job skills training.
  • Community Service Board (CSB) of Middle Georgia offers behavioral health services including support groups.
  • Dublin Housing Authority promotes its services via newsletters to residents.
  • Dublin/Laurens County Teen Court provides an educational opportunity for first-time misdemeanor offenders. Teens learn firsthand what goes on in a courtroom with an actual judge onsite to oversee mock trials.
  • Dublin City Schools assists with health screenings, counseling, and dental services.
  • Fathers Among Men is a fatherhood program through the local Heart of Georgia Healthy Start that provides male-focused activities and programs.
  • Heart of Georgia Healthy Start provides services to parenting mothers—including teen moms.
  • Laurens County Commissioners serve as advisors and assist with promoting programs and services.
  • Laurens County Library hosts monthly pop-up library services to provide books, library cards, story time, and crafts.
  • Oconee Fall Line Technical College provides onsite GED classes.
  • South Central Health District provides prevention and education services.
  • Southside Community Association assists with marketing, promoting, and hosting activities.

Since it opened five months ago, the KWG Center has distributed more than 500 food boxes, and a “Dress for Success” closet provides free uniforms and clothing. COVID-19 and flu vaccination events held at the center have been successful, and youth who have participated in the Center’s Teen Court are giving back to the community through service projects. “Our program has been tapped as a model for other states,” said Smith.

Opening Doors to Provide Targeted Support

“We open our doors to anyone who needs help,” said community nurse Annie Hutchinson, who offers daily blood pressure and blood sugar check-ups. “We support young mothers, the unemployed, and the elderly. One patient came in who didn’t have insurance, a place to live, or any income, so we’ve coordinated services to ensure he gets what he needs to function.”

Hutchinson aims to reinforce and build the community’s knowledge base. “Prostate cancer and prostatitis are a focus for me. So many males in this part of the community have prostate cancer. They’re scared,” said Hutchinson. “Breast cancer numbers also are high, and education is what these women need. We have a doctor who will also be working with us and providing care.”

Behavioral health services are already provided in the schools through CSB of Middle Georgia, but the KWG Center now also offers those services so that families won’t go without them during the summer months. CSB also coordinates several support groups at the Center.

“One group focuses on children who’ve been diagnosed with autism, which gives parents relief, support, and encouragement from others going through the same thing,” said Smith. “We have a support group for grandparents because here in Laurens there are a lot of grandparents raising their grandkids. It’s an avenue for them to build a support system and get resources.”

The rate of teen pregnancies for ages 15 – 17 in 2022 was 13.6 per 1,000, compared to Georgia’s average of 9.8. The rate of teen mothers between the ages of 15 – 19 giving birth to another child before age 20 is 17.9%, compared to Georgia’s rate of 13%.

Heart of Georgia Healthy Start provides parent education, WIC assistance, breastfeeding classes, car seat training, and more to pregnant and parenting moms. Parent support groups also are offered in person and online, and people from as far away as California log in to participate, expanding the Center’s reach from coast to coast.

Fathers Among Men is another critical resource the KWG Center offers. “Our rate of children living in single parent families in 2022 was 46.3%, and we realized most of those families are headed by mothers,” said Smith.

Elgin Dixon, Ed.S., coordinator of Fathers Among Men in Dublin, was the last of six children born before his mother was 22, and he didn’t grow up with his father in the home. “I had surrogates who reached out and provided a hand up for me and instilled values that I was able to grasp,” he said. “As a result, I became the first college graduate in my family and other family members are now college graduates. My daughter is a pharmacist, and my son is a teacher. It has to begin somewhere. If one male can be reached, he can reach another and impact his life and help build healthy families. It doesn’t matter where you come from, but it does matter where you’re going.”

The Fathers Among Men program in Dublin includes 12 sessions centered on job readiness, money management, parenting skills, and more. Classes are held in person and virtually to better accommodate schedules, and up to $300 of incentives are offered to help fathers provide necessities for the household, take their families out to eat to enjoy quality time, and share free children’s books to improve literacy.

“Looking back over my career as a former school superintendent, I often saw a missing part in the family—the father,” said Dixon. “Fathers Among Men provides an opportunity for men to become better men. Better men produce better families, and better families produce better communities.”

A Dream for Families in Laurens County

“My dream is that families are going to be self-sufficient and succeeding in every aspect of their life,” said Smith. “Our community will be thriving. My biggest dream is that people are going to be utilizing the resources that are available to them without being prompted.”

Making this a reality, according to Smith, will take strong partners collaborating and pooling resources, constantly communicating with families, and eliminating barriers that stand in their way.

“CIS opened our doors 25 years ago, and today I’m serving children of the children who came through our program,” said Curtis. “By putting this resource center in place, we brought all our partners together in one place so that we can send our families here as a one-stop-shop for all their needs.”

Smith said the main challenge moving forward is attracting investors so they can continue to provide critical resources and services to families.

“Family Connection is vital to this community. I tell people it’s the best kept secret that needs to get out,” said Jones. “The first Collaborative meeting I attended I said, ‘I didn’t know we had all those resources in Laurens County.’ People in the community who have resources sit down at the table and share ideas, which helps bring the community together.”

“I know some families would not have had a warm night’s sleep if it hadn’t been for Family Connection’s services and connectivity,” said Dixon. “Family Connection is on the cutting edge of being there to meet people’s needs. If people’s needs aren’t met, we can’t expect them to be able to move their families forward. Family Connection introduces children and families to opportunities that cause them to dream bigger than they ever imagined.”

Krystin Dean
GaFCP Communications Specialist

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