The north star is the only one that doesn’t change position as the earth rotates. It’s constant.

Truth is our north star that’s guided us through Georgia’s evolving landscape for more than three decades. Here’s the heavy truth of our situation: low birthweight babies, mental illness, suicide, maternal mortality, and youth homelessness are pervasive. Though we can’t always see what’s ahead, we allow truth to point the way.

The Georgia Family Connection 2022 Conference, Oct. 26-28, will dare us to find solutions together. The data we’ve collected—combined with 30 years of collaborating to improve outcomes for Georgia’s children and families—demonstrates the art and science of truth at work. This truth allows us to understand and learn from the past while meeting future challenges with a boldness justified by our collective knowledge, purpose, and trust in one another.

This conference is designed for collaborators determined to finding solutions to the complex issues that challenge children and families in our communities. This diverse group represents urban and rural areas of Georgia and other states, as well as multiple sectors of community life, including social services, education, government, health care, and business.



Connect on social media during, before, and after the conference as we continue to learn and collaborate together. We’re using the #LetsTalkGA hashtag to focus our conversations on Facebook and Twitter.

This schedule is subject to change.

Wednesday, Oct. 26

2 p.m.                         Registration Opens

5 – 7 p.m.                   Opening Reception

Thursday, Oct. 27

7:30 – 8:30 a.m.          Breakfast

8:45 – 10:15 a.m.        Workshop Session 1

10:15 – 10:30 a.m.     Break

10:30 – Noon              Workshop Session 2

Noon – 12:15 p.m.     Break

12:15 – 1:30 p.m.       Plenary Luncheon

1:30 – 2 p.m.              Break

2 – 3:30 p.m.              Workshop Session 3

4 – 6 p.m.                    Networking Reception

Friday, Oct. 28

7:30 – 8:15 a.m.          Coffee and Light Fare

8:30 – 10 a.m.             Workshop Session 4

10 – 10:15 a.m.           Break

10:15 – 10:45 a.m.     Brunch

10:45 – 11:45 a.m.     Closing Plenary Session

Health and Safety

Community Suicide Prevention: A Collaborative Approach

Suicide—the second leading cause for children and adults ages 10 to 24—claimed more lives than homicides, car accidents, or fatal opioid overdoses in Georgia in 2018. This panel discussion will highlight suicide prevention efforts in Jones and Coffee counties—and the power of community collaboration centered on a common cause: to eradicate suicide. Along with the “why” and “how” of the process, participants will hear personal stories from community members directly impacted by the work. Participants will also receive a sample curriculum to implement the program in their own communities.

Presenters

Joy Carr
Coordinator
Jones County Family Connection

Lindsay Mangum
Student Research Assistant

Chris Sheffield
Associate Pastor
GracePointe Church

Marnie Smith
Pre-K Teacher
Ambrose Elementary School

April Thomason
Director
Coffee County Family Connection

Martha S. Tingen, Ph.D., RN

Brandon Warrick
Community Program Coordinator

Maternal Health: Improving Outcomes for Black Birthing Women—and Their Babies

Learn about holistic approaches and opportunities to take action to advance women’s health at the community level. Discover the leading causes of maternal deaths, get recommendations from the Maternal Mortality Review Committee, and hear about initiatives through the Georgia Perinatal Quality Collaborative, Maternal Health Project ECHO, and PEACE for Moms. Delve deeper into the need for system-level changes as a mechanism to close the gap in black and white maternal mortality and morbidity; examine the momentum to improve outcomes for black birthing women; and appraise how innovative strategies can support improvements in the experience and outcomes for black birthing women and infants.

Presenters

Jemea S. Dorsey
Chief Executive Officer
Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Inc.

Kaprice Simone Milligan
Nurse Educator
Emory University Nell Hodges School of Nursing

Laura Layne
Women’s Health Deputy Director
Georgia Department of Public Health

Nurturing Our Youngest Georgians: Collectively Improving Infant and Child Health

Explore the current state of infant and early childhood health in Georgia—looking at health through a holistic lens. This panel will feature insight about infant and early childhood mental health, home visiting, and infant mortality prevention. Find out how partners can act to collectively improve infant and early childhood wellness within Georgia’s communities.

Presenters

Paige Jones
Title V Deputy Director, Maternal and Child Health
Georgia Department of Public Health

Laura Lucas
Director, Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health
Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

Twanna Nelson
Deputy Director, Family and Community Supports
Georgia Department of Public Health

Youth Civic Engagement: What Data Can Tell Us About What Youth Need from Their Community

What do young people need from their communities? How can decision-makers change local systems to better support younger constituents? What can adults do to ensure youth have the desire and information they need to become active, contributing members of their communities now—and in the future? Find out how Collaboratives and locally elected officials are using Youth Engagement Survey data to assess teens’ needs and their ability to access services to meet those needs, and to help them become more engaged in civic life.

Presenter

Jill Vanderhoek
Executive Director
Community Partnership Bibb County Family Connection

Family and Economic Well-Being

Ending Youth Homelessness: A Community Approach

Ending homelessness among youth requires an innovative approach. The most effective housing solutions for youth need to address the fundamental problems they face, including the lack of a supportive family environment. Learn about the issues confronted by professionals tasked with educating and supporting homeless youth. Community champions will also share successful strategies and lessons learned along the way as they work to reaffirm their commitment to the safety of, and support for, every young person.

Presenter

Teka Jenkins
Coordinator
Family Connection of Columbia County

Family and Kin Caregiver Support: Wrapping Our Arms Around All Families

Families are the core of every community. A socioecological approach recognizes the need to impact community systems and norms to provide support to families so they may live a healthy and successful life. Strategies to support families include strengthening economic supports; changing social norms to support parents and positive parenting; providing quality care and education early in life; enhancing parenting skills to promote healthy child development; and intervening to lessen harms and prevent future risk. Hear from two state partners and a Collaborative coordinator who work to ensure quality family support services in their communities.

Presenters

Deborah Chosewood
Deputy Director of Prevention and Community Support
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services

Amy Griffin
Executive Director
Lanier County Family Connection

Tacia C. Spooner
Kinship Director
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services

Handle With Care: A Small Message with a Big Impact for Students After Trauma

“Handle With Care.” That simple message can make a complex difference in a student’s life. The Handle With Care initiative allows police officials to notify a school if a student is involved in an incident—whether or not DFCS is notified—with a note that reads “Handle with Care” and the student’s name. Find out how this initiative was implemented in Troup County, including the stakeholders and their responsibilities, the process of reporting, and the benefits. Participants will also receive copies of the Troup County Handle With Care protocol to take back to their own communities.

Presenters

Jacqueline Jones
Director of Student Services
Troup County School System

Michael Key
Juvenile Court Judge
Troup County Juvenile Court

Healthy Food and Healthy Spaces: What Students Need to Thrive

The research is clear—we know that children perform better in school when they’re physically and emotionally healthy. We also know that social, environmental, economic, and genetic factors influence health and well-being, providing an array of opportunities to intervene. There is no simple cause-effect relationship between any one specific risk factor or protective factor and academic outcomes. However, addressing system barriers and improving the early childhood education system will help to alleviate risk and promote protective factors.

Presenters

Tamra Allen
Coordinator
Emanuel County Family Connection

Seth Brown
Executive Director
Lowndes County Family Connection

Erin Lee
Executive Director
Early County Family Connection

Sheena Summerset
Early Childhood Literacy Coordinator
Early County Family Connection

Education

Battling Pandemic Learning Loss: Community Strategies for School Success

COVID-19 has significantly disrupted learning for children and youth for the past two school years. Shutdowns and online learning have impacted school attendance, participation, and engagement from students—as well as motivation and mental health of teachers. Learn about activities that decrease learning loss, improve capacity of schools and their staff, and create positive learning environments for everyone. And get strategies community partners can implement to help achieve these outcomes.

Presenters

Morcease J. Beasley
Superintendent
Clayton County Public Schools

Hayward Cordy
Foundation President, Director for Partnerships, and Professional Learning Coordinator
Professional Association of Georgia Educators

Damon Raines
Superintendent
Walker County Schools

Building Social and Emotional Development in Early Learners

Dive into the latest information and resources to support recent advances in infant toddler social and emotional health. Learn about strategic approaches underway to improve early education access including a “mixed delivery system” for pre-K; the recent increase in pre-K assistant teacher salaries; the pre-K longitudinal study; and how partners across Georgia are strengthening the prominence of high-quality nutrition, Farm to Early Care and Education, and physical activity into Georgia’s Quality Rated system.

Presenters

Mindy Binderman
Executive Director
GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students

Reynaldo Green
Vice President of Nutrition and Family Well-Being
Quality Care for Children

Bridget Ratajczak
Child and Family Development Supervisor
Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning

Improving Life Outcomes for Opportunity Youth

“Opportunity youth” are disconnected individuals between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working. The effects of this disengagement can have drastic lifelong consequences. Learn how two Georgia Family Connection Collaboratives are utilizing strategic partnerships with WIOA service providers, technical colleges, school systems, and juvenile courts to make connections that improve outcomes for these youth. MENTOR Georgia, a statewide affiliate for MENTOR, will share their mission to increase mentoring opportunities to support young people across the state by bringing together the mentoring community and providing access to leadership and professional development.

Presenters

Tommy Baker
Site Manager
Eckerd Connects

Clayton A. D’Andrade
President
Clouds of Hope Substance Abuse Prevention Services

Jennifer Dobbs
Executive Director
Haralson County Family Connection

Chester Johnson
Executive Director
Jefferson County Family Connection

Communications

A Surefire Framework: Easy Ways to Drastically Improve Your Website

Your website brings people together to help meet your county’s evolving needs and most pressing concerns. It’s the place to share your mission, spread vital information, dive deeper into data, lead to resources, and promote and celebrate your work. It also legitimizes and instills confidence in your Collaborative, reinforcing your link to the Georgia Family Connection statewide network. Learn how to get the most out of your online presence with a website that’s well-organized, branded, and engaging—by simply and purposefully utilizing the existing framework.

Effectively Communicating is Always Part of the Plan

Collaboratives connect partners to the resources they need, help coordinate and manage efforts, and empower communities to craft local solutions based on local decisions. This only happens when you effectively communicate our shared mission, vision, and values. Advocating for systems changes that eliminate the barriers and inefficiencies standing in the way of progress and positive outcomes is only possible when you let people know what’s really happening in our counties. Embedding communications strategy into your annual plan is vital—so here’s five easy ways to do just that.

Fixing the “I Don’t Have Time for Social Media!” Problem

Social media engages the human factor of your organization and your followers, building an emotional connection which naturally leads to trust and loyalty. Branded social media accounts are the place to visually share headlines and stories, spread timely events and resources, start conversations, and make genuine connections. Find out how to achieve big returns by investing just two hours each month to intentionally craft engaging social media content.

What to Say and How to Say It: Rethinking and Redefining Community Outreach

You are the advocates of children and families in your community. First considering who you’re trying to reach—prospective and current partners, legislators, media, families, volunteers—helps you determine not only what to say but also the best way to say it. Connecting to a statewide network gives you legitimacy, authority, influence, and support. Messaging that’s consistent and intentional also gives you the freedom to demonstrate your Collaborative’s individuality. During this panel discussion, key members of your audience will help you navigate the art of community outreach.

Data and Evaluation

Navigating a Changing Data Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to nearly every aspect of our lives, and the data landscape for Georgia is no exception. Find out how indicators will change, run late, or disappear altogether in 2022—and how we can prepare for the changes. The Georgia KIDS COUNT team, which will continue to support community data needs as we navigate the data landscape changes, will show you how to use KIDS COUNT data and tools, how to use them with different audiences, and how to use data to drive messaging. Whether you’re new to KIDS COUNT or just want a refresher, this session will equip you to be a data rock star in your community. Participants will also experience an interactive tour through Georgia Family Connection’s 30th anniversary data report.

*This session will be presented twice during the conference.

Tamra Allen

Coordinator
Emanuel County Family Connection
Tamra Allen is focused on improving childhood literacy and nutrition for children and families. Allen leads the Collaborative’s efforts as part of GaFCP’s WIC Matters Cohort, which helps ensure that eligible women are informed about, enroll in, and actively use WIC’s resources. She has focused on prevention and life-skill development for youth; worked in child and adolescent behavioral health with a private provider; served families with UGA Extension; and worked with families at a federally qualified health care center.

Tommy Baker

Site Manager
Eckerd Connects
Tommy Baker has been with Eckerd Connects in northwest Georgia for five years. Eckerd Connects provides and shares solutions that promote the well-being of children, young adults, and families in need. Baker previously worked in adult education with the Technical College System of Georgia and has more than 20 years of experience in public school education and coaching.

Morcease J. Beasley, Ed.D.

Superintendent
Clayton County Public Schools
Morcease J. Beasley has more than 20 years of dedicated service toward instructional practices and has held numerous leadership positions in public education. He most recently served as Clayton County Public Schools chief school improvement officer. He is known as an innovative leader with an exceptional ability to transform both large urban and suburban school districts. Beasley is also recognized for his impeccable ability to improve student academic achievement, strengthen community engagement, and develop and implement sustainable strategies for a school system.

Mindy Binderman

Executive Director
GEEARS: Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students
Mindy Binderman leads GEEARS’ efforts to inspire and provide leadership for a statewide movement on early learning and healthy development for children ages birth to 5. She has served in this role since GEEARS’ founding in 2010. Binderman has had an extensive career in advocacy and government relations for nonprofits and corporations in Maryland and Georgia. She served in government relations roles for several nonprofits before establishing her own successful lobbying firm based in Annapolis, Md. She previously served as advocacy director for Voices for Georgia’s Children from 2007 – 2010.

Seth Brown

Executive Director
Lowndes County Family Connection
Seth Brown has served in this role for 13 years. A Valdosta native, Brown is a member of Leadership Lowndes and spends countless hours working in the community to serve and uplift others. He leads the Collaborative’s efforts as part of GaFCP’s WIC Matters Cohort, which helps ensure that eligible women are informed about, enroll in, and actively use WIC’s resources.

Joy Carr

Coordinator
Jones County Family Connection
Joy Carr has worked to foster relationships and convene key community members committed to improving the well-being of children and families in this role for the past decade. She connects community partners to the resources they need, coordinates and manages community efforts, and empowers community members to craft local solutions based on local decisions.

Deborah Chosewood

Deputy Director of Prevention and Community Support
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services
Deborah Chosewood has worked in the early childhood and prevention field for nearly 20 years. She’s a member of numerous statewide task forces and committees aimed at the prevention of child abuse and neglect, human trafficking, youth suicide, adolescent pregnancy, and related topics. Prevention and Community Support is the state entity charged with administering federal and state funding streams geared toward child abuse and neglect prevention, including the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention federal grant and the state’s Children’s Trust Fund appropriation.

Hayward Cordy, Ed.D.

Foundation President, Director for Partnerships, and Professional Learning
Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL)
Coordinator
Professional Association of Georgia Educators
Hayward Cordy recently retired as executive director of Oconee Regional Educational Services Agency in Tennille after completing his 39th year in K-12 education. Cordy served as superintendent of schools in Jenkins and Johnson counties. He has served as an elementary school, middle school, and high school principal; served as a GNETS and alternative education program director; taught students with special needs; and co-taught career technology education classes. His autobiography, Damaged Goods: Lessons Learned in Poverty Applied to Life, details his struggles and successes growing up as a chronic stutterer and child of poverty. His message of hope is founded in the belief that one’s beginning does not necessarily determine one’s ending.

Clayton A. D’Andrade

President
Clouds of Hope Substance Abuse Prevention Services
Clayton A. D’Andrade, an accomplished addiction expert, founded Clouds of Hope in 2013, which conducts group therapy to offenders in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, relapse prevention, and anger management in Rockdale and Jefferson counties. D’Andrade uses a multidisciplinary approach to ensure that clients are functionally rehabilitated. He’s worked as an addiction counselor in Georgia for 18 years in Atlanta, Decatur, Covington, and Milledgeville and previously served as counselor and chaplain in the 39th Regiment of the Texas State Military for eight years.

Jennifer Dobbs

Executive Director
Haralson County Family Connection
Jennifer Dobbs has served the Collaborative for six years. Prior to that, she served as a social worker in Haralson County in different capacities for more than 30 years

Jemea S. Dorsey

Chief Executive Officer
Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Inc.
A true advocate for women’s health and empowerment, Jemea S. Dorsey spent several years with Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Inc. (CBWW) cultivating program initiatives such as Plain Talk and Healthy Start prior to assuming her leadership position in 2005. CBWW is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that provides affordable health care services, health education, care coordination services, youth development programs, microenterprise training, and other free and low-cost services to empower black women and their families throughout the Atlanta area. Prior to joining the center, Dorsey served as an educational consultant in New York and as an evaluation consultant for Georgia Family Connection.

Reynaldo Green

Vice President of Nutrition and Family Well-Being
Quality Care for Children
Quality Care for Children (QCC) is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that serves the entire state of Georgia. Since 2013, Reynaldo Green has overseen QCC’s administration of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program that serves 4 million meals and snacks to more than 22,000 children across the state each year. He also manages the statewide 877-ALL-GA-KIDS child care referral call center, QCC’s Farm to Early Care and Education program, and Boost Child Care scholarship program.

Amy Griffin

Executive Director
Lanier County Family Connection
Amy Griffin has served in this role for 12 years. Under her leadership, the Collaborative has developed a comprehensive family support strategy that serves families throughout the county to help improve health and educational outcomes.

Teka Jenkins

Coordinator
Family Connection of Columbia County
Teka Jenkins is responsible for bringing community partners to the table to help solve community issues, with a focus on capacity building within her community.

Chester Johnson

Executive Director
Jefferson County Family Connection
Chester Johnson—a retired fire chief after 32 years of service—has taken the Collaborative from having a fiscal agent to becoming its own fiscal agent and increased community buy-in as well as local financial contributions from partners during his 10 years in the role. He works with at-risk, or disconnected youth, through the Jefferson County Delinquency Prevention Project, a collaborative effort between Family Connection, city and county government, Jefferson County Juvenile Court, and the Jefferson County Department of Juvenile Justice. Johnson has a knack for making meaningful connections with community leaders and an insatiable appetite for helping others maximize their potential.

Jacqueline Jones, Ed.D.

Director of Student Services
Troup County School System
During her 30-year tenure in this role, Jacqueline Jones has been instrumental in identifying and implementing innovative initiatives within the school system and community. She serves as the school system’s point of contact for the Handle With Care initiative.

Paige Jones

Title V Deputy Director, Maternal and Child Health
Georgia Department of Public Health
Paige Jones serves as the state lead for the Improving Birth Outcomes Initiative. She has more than 29 years of experience working in the maternal and child health field, which includes developing and directing maternity care coordination programs to reduce racial disparities and improve birth outcomes. Jones has directed evidence-based home visiting programs, developed a fatherhood initiative, and led collective impact efforts.

Michael Key

Juvenile Court Judge
Troup County Juvenile Court
Michael Key is responsible for identifying and developing the Handle With Care initiative in Troup County. He’s an instrumental leader in improving child well-being locally and statewide. He’s a seasoned judge and attorney who’s made significant positive outcomes in the lives of children and families in Troup County and throughout Georgia.

Laura Layne

Women’s Health Deputy Director
Georgia Department of Public Health
Laura Layne is a registered nurse with more than 15 years of experience in nursing and public health. She leads statewide programs to improve perinatal care through equitable, data-driven, quality improvement (QI) initiatives. She has extensive QI experience and a Lean Six Sigma green belt certification. She’s an adjunct faculty member and clinical instructor at the Emory University School of Nursing.

Erin Lee

Executive Director
Early County Family Connection
Erin Lee began her career in youth ministry and joined Georgia Family Connection in 2004. She has had the opportunity to serve families through after-school programs, youth leadership initiatives, and substance abuse prevention efforts—and enjoys seeing the great work that happens when Collaborative partners come together.

Laura Lucas

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Director
Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
Laura Lucas works to create an Early Childhood System of Care with community and state partners to better meet the needs of children’s social and emotional health from birth through age 5. She previously worked for Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities for over a decade as project director for both Child Adolescent State Infrastructure and Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act grants. She served as the young child wellness partner for Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health). Lucas served as Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program administrator for DeKalb County for 10 years. She started her career as an in-home multi-systemic child and family therapist and senior supervisor helping to retain children in their communities and prevent out-of-home placements. She also worked as a regional supervisor for a Therapeutic Foster Care Program.

Lindsay Mangrum

Student Assistant
Augusta University
While studying nonprofit leadership, Lindsay Mangrum has served as a student assistant on Augusta University’s “Choose Hope” Suicide Prevention Project for the past three years. Also a certified peer specialist certified in trauma-informed care, Mangrum speaks out about her own long-term mental health recovery. She enjoys partnering her lived experience with her heart for others in offering “Question, Persuade, Refer” suicide prevention training and connecting with the people she meets in the communities she serves. More than anything, she is grateful for the faith, loved ones, strong supports, good books, and sense of humor that help her keep showing up and giving her best in each new day she is given.

David Meyers

Senior Public Service Associate, Youth and Family Development
University of Georgia
David Myers came to University of Georgia in 2010. He works on a variety of youth and family initiatives with a primary focus of supporting youth in foster care and the families and institutions that serve them. Current projects include the Georgia Education and Training Voucher program, Embark, and MENTOR Georgia. Myers has an interest in developing training, pre-collegiate, and college access programs and initiatives to support foster families. He serves on several committees in support of children including the Georgia Youth Opportunities Initiative, the Child Protective Services Advisory Panel, and the College Access Challenge Grant Leadership Committee. He is adjunct faculty in the School of Social Work. His career focus has been dedicated to the field of child welfare, and he has worked in the field of children and families for the last 20 years in a variety of settings with both organizational and direct practice experience. His first job was as a foster care case manager for the Department of Family and Children Services; later, he worked directly with foster and adoptive parents as a trainer and home assessor.

Kaprice Simone Milligan

Nurse Educator
Emory University Nell Hodges School of Nursing
Kaprice Simone Milligan has worked in women’s health care for more than 30 years in the inpatient setting, private practice, a birth center, and community health clinics. She joined the Georgia Department of Public Health in 2009 as the Perinatal Nurse Program manager and later became the director of women’s services at the Georgia Department of Community Health where she helped implement the state’s first family planning waiver program. In 2011, she joined the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society as clinical liaison where she continues to support OBGYNs from across the state, providing outreach and educational programming and engaging with community partners and stakeholders on women’s health priorities. Milligan has worked as a nurse educator in the Georgia State University School of Nursing and the Emory University Nell Hodges School of Nursing. She serves as chair of diversity equity and inclusion for the Georgia Affiliate of Certified Nurse Midwives and on the leadership team of the Georgia Perinatal Quality Collaborative (GapQC). She is co-chair of the March of Dimes National Advisory Committee Mom Baby Action Networks Dismantling Racism workgroup and co-chair of the Georgia Association of Women’s Health and Obstetric and Neonatal Nursing health equity committee.

Twanna Nelson

Deputy Director, Family and Community Supports
Georgia Department of Public Health
Twanna Nelson was instrumental in the implementation of a successful HRSA Healthy Start home visiting program in Georgia. Nelson has more than 10 years of experience in evidence-based home visiting and is considered the team’s subject matter expert. She has successfully moved through the ranks from being an outreach specialist responsible for recruiting families into the home visiting program, a certified lactation counselor to a certified Parents As Teachers parent educator, and now leads the team responsible for implementing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program and HRSA Healthy Start in two public health districts. She is a strong proponent of home visiting and understands how vital it is to strengthening families.

Damon Raines

Superintendent
Walker County Schools
Damon Raines is a 24-year education veteran. His experience includes being a classroom teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of operations, and superintendent of Walker County Schools.

Bridget Ratajczak

Child and Family Development Supervisor
Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning
Bridget Ratajczak is the CDC’s Act Early Ambassador for Georgia. She provides support for early childhood professionals and families on the topics of developmental monitoring, child development and family engagement. Her extensive experience in early childhood education and special education includes being an instructor at the University of Georgia’s birth through kindergarten teacher preparation program, early intervention specialist with the Babies Can’t Wait early intervention program, and a preschool special education teacher in Athens. Her areas of expertise include early identification of developmental delays, family engagement in early care and learning settings, and positive behavior supports and interventions for young children.

Gail Seifert

Coordinator
Ware Children’s Initiative, Inc.
Gail Seifert joined Georgia Family Connection in 2014. She motivates diverse groups and individuals to find creative solutions to unmet community and organizational needs. She has served as executive director of both a community foundation and health foundation. She believes that everyone needs a safe place to call home.

Chris Sheffield

Associate Pastor
GracePointe Church
Chris Sheffield has served in ministry for more than 10 years as a student pastor, campus pastor, and now associate pastor of GracePointe Church. He has also served as a board member for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Sheffield has a passion to see students transformed by the love of Jesus and encouraged to love their community. He has served as part of the Know Your Worth Collaborative since its inception and is chair of the Know Your Worth Board of Directors.

Marnie Smith

Pre-K Teacher
Ambrose Elementary School
Marnie Smith has been teaching pre-K at Ambrose Elementary School for 14 years. She is the proud mother of two children. Her son Trent graduated as an honor graduate for the Class of 2022. Her oldest child, who she always refers to as “my Sweet Caroline,” passed away on Feb. 17, 2019, from suicide. She would have been an honor graduate from Coffee High School in May 2020. Smith is a very active member of the Know Your Worth Collaborative and a volunteer for Donate Life.

Tacia C. Spooner

Kinship Director
Georgia Division of Family and Children Services
During her tenure in Georgia, Tacia Spooner served as a Child Protective Services case manager in Fulton and Cobb counties prior to leading statewide initiatives aimed at improving child safety and family supports. Spooner spearheaded the development of Georgia’s Child Abuse Registry, Kinship Navigator Program, and the statewide implementation of Georgia’s Kinship Care Continuum. She embeds partnership development and community engagement in every aspect of her career and within her community.

Sheena Summerset

Early Childhood Literacy Coordinator
Early County Family Connection
Sheena Summerset joined Georgia Family Connection in 2018 to focus on the importance of literacy and early childhood initiatives. She previously served as a lead preschool teacher for over 11 years. Summerset said that working in early childhood is definitely her purpose: “I love the honesty and curiosity of young children in learning.”

April Thomason

Director
Coffee County Family Connection
April Thomason has been employed with the Coffee County Board of Education for 29 years, beginning as a paraprofessional in the pre-K program. In addition to her efforts with Family Connection, she serves as executive director for the Know Your Worth Collaborative. For more than three decades, Thomason has been dedicated to the area of social services. She uses her time and talents to work with community and faith-based partners to better serve the families in Coffee County.

Brandon Warrick

Community Program Coordinator
Augusta University
Brandon Warrick works as the project coordinator for the suicide prevention grant the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University received from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability. The Suicide Prevention Coalition, which aims to prevent suicide at its root by educating the community on the signs of suicidal thoughts, is a partnership between Augusta University and Jones County Family Connection.

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