LaGRANGE — Members of the Safe Families for Children are issuing a challenge to the community in the hopes of finding more host families and churches for children in temporary need of homes.
Team members launched a 100 day challenge at the beginning of June.
Safe Families for Children is a nationwide program, which is also a local organization through the Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services. The program partners with the church to temporarily care for at-risk children while strengthening families.
Safe Families is not like the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFACS, stated Candi Gibson, coordinator of Safe Families. Participating parents retain full custody, have contact with their children and can request the return of their children at any time.
“We’re really like a neighbor or a friend. We’re helping and mentoring,” she explained, “Families are very resilient when they know someone is there; someone they can lean on and help them.
“When you encircle these families (participants) with the love of Christ … and have a meaningful relationship with them, that is what changes things for them,” Gibson continued.
Right now, Safe Families for Children of LaGrange only has four host families and a number of parents with children on a waiting list.
“I have to say ‘no’ to families way too often and it’s heartbreaking,” said Gibson. “It’s because of capacity. I can’t wait to see the day when we don’t have to say ‘no’ to a family. I hope it comes this fall.”
Folks with the Safe Families 100 Day Challenge held a team building conference during the Spring and set goal plus created a plan on how to achieve it, Gibson said. The group hopes to find at least 20 churches in Troup County that are willing to become fully engaged in the Safe Families program through ministry.
Members also aim to gain at least 100 families within those congregations that will readily share their homes, hearts and time with participants in the Safe Families program for short periods of time, Gibson said.
“There are 197 churches throughout Troup County,” she said. “If we had one family from each church that’s almost 200 volunteers. If we had a few from each church we would meet our goal and exceed it. I think it’s doable. … They’re inspiring biblical hospitality back into our community.”
“It’s not like our families are different from your family,” said Mike Angstadt, executive director of Twin Cedars. “There are times when our families have been stuck and needed help … these families are stuck and need help … It’s that reciprocity … not just giving people a hand, but giving them a hand up.”
As part of their action plan, Safe Families team members reached out to city and county officials and asked them to be “ambassadors” for the 100 Day Challenge. This year’s ambassadors are LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews, Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff and City Councilwoman Norma Tucker.
Host families and churches can reside in Troup County or the surrounding area, including Alabama, Gibson explained. But the children the program places with these families must be Georgia residents.
Safe Families for Children will screen all host families and perform background checks, among other processes, said Gibson. Once they pass, the families will be trained and given resources to make and maintain healthy relationships with the children they shelter and their family members.
Families can also choose how often they host a child and for how many days or weeks at a time, Gibson explained.
Safe Families for Children has already made a huge impact on families in need in Chicago, Gibson said. The program reduced the number of children in foster car by 50 percent.
“If they can do that in Chicago, then we can do it here,” she said firmly. “My goal is to reduce the need of foster care by 50 percent. I want to build relationships with families and to see this ministry fully unleashed to the churches and for them to make it their own. It’s local missions.”
Team members have a Safe Families event planned for July 22 at Lafayette Square from 6 to 8 p.m.
The 100 Day Challenge will end at the beginning of September.
Anyone wanting to join the Safe Families for Children 100 Day Challenge as a host family or church, or for more information contact Candi Gibson at 706-298-0050, ext. 1073, or 706-616-8028.
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.