Originally created 08/29/98

Grant to zero in on problems



Columbia County has received a $25,000 grant from the state Family Connections program to form the Columbia County Community Collaborative, an organization designed to tackle community social problems.

The public is invited to the collaborative's first meeting, which will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall in Grovetown.

"In essence it is a process, not a program, where people get together with social service providers, law enforcement and educators to look at the health of the community to see how they can better serve youth and families," said coordinator James Cullinan. "In our county, for example, we might look at issues such as teen pregnancy, school dropouts, low birth-weight babies and poverty. For instance, we know we have 7,000 of our citizens living below the poverty level."

The initial grant will provide funding for the organization to develop a plan over the next nine months. The plan, Mr. Cullinan said, will be based on a community survey. If the plan is approved by Family Connections, then an implementation grant will be awarded next year.

In 1995, the state Legislature adopted Family Connections to bring state agencies, such as the Department of Children & Youth Services, Department of Human Resources, Education, Medical Assistance and the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget together to tackle social problems.

"Family Connections is basically an effort that's been blessed by the state to try to organize the community," said Grovetown Department of Public Safety Chief John Tomberlin, a member of the collaborative board.

"It's family-focused and it's prevention-oriented. The design is to try to pull the community together to work on community problems,` he said. "Its goals are improved child health, improved child development, improved school performance, improved family functioning and improved family economic capacity."

Other board members include Chairwoman Linda Joesbury of the Department of Family and Children Services; the Rev. Melvin Adams, vice chairman; the Rev. Roscoe Perry; Christopher Gray, a prevention specialist with the Department of Community Mental Health; and Grovetown Mayor Dennis Trudeau.

Richmond, Wilkes and McDuffie counties already have similar programs in place, Mr. Cullinan said.

In Wilkes County an after-school tutoring program was implemented that serves 100 youths in five housing projects. The program, Mr. Cullinan said, has dramatically reduced teen pregnancies, youth crime and has increased academic performance.

The programs developed by the collaborative will be determined by the results of the community survey, he added.