LaGRANGE — It was standing room only at the Coleman Center on Thursday as community leaders focused on helping at-risk children and reducing the need for foster care.
Troup County Sheriff James Woodruff, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews, State Court Judge Jeannette Little and other leaders headed up the inaugural “Our Children, Our Future” conference. The forum was hosted by Safe Families, a division of Twin Cedars Youth and Family Services.
The group gave answers about how the community helps at-risk children and families — and how they fail them.
“They spoke about the lack of transportation and the lack of foster homes. … We need more volunteers and mentors,” said Mike Angstadt, executive director of Twin Cedars. “According to Candi Gibson (Safe Families coordinator), there are about 14,000 children in foster care across the state of Georgia. There are 14,000 churches in Georgia. So, what if each church took in one child? There would be no need for foster care.”
Safe Families for Children is a nationwide program that partners with the church to temporarily care for at-risk children while strengthening families. Unlike the Department of Family and Children Services, participating parents in Safe Families retain full custody of their children, have contact with them, and can request the return of their children at any time.
Folks such as Shay Thornton, director of the Troup County Department of Family and Children Services, and Zsa Zsa Heard, CEO of the LaGrange Housing Authority, told the crowd about the need for more mentors in the community.
The Safe Families host families not only help guide children on the right path in life — but their parents as well.
The conference included a forum on race relations, volunteer opportunities, and testimonies from churches and families participating in the Safe Families for Children program.
Angstadt hoped the conference formed lasting partnerships between area churches and local agencies, plus provide the organization with more volunteers.
“We hope churches realize how influential they can be in making sure children have mentors and families to turn to … that they go to school, stay away from drugs and don’t have children of their own before their time,” Angstadt said. “Children are children. We shouldn’t see them by the color of their skin, but by the sparkle God puts in their eyes. We can do that by just giving kids an ‘Atta Boy’ and letting them know they are valued.”
Angstadt has served 22 years as the executive director of Twin Cedars. His staff honored him during the forum on Thursday for his hard work and dedication to the community. They surprised him with the inaugural statue of the “Mike Angstadt Family and Children Hero award.”
“I’m honored, humbled and surprised,” he said. “The thing that moves me the most is the award can be a legacy for the heroes that follow me in the community. This award will ensure that children have heroes and people will be honored and acknowledged for their efforts.”
Angstadt will retire as the executive director of Twin Cedars in February 2017.
Anyone wanting more information about the Safe Families for Children program can contact Gibson at 706-298-0050, ext. 1073, or [email protected]
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.