Wendy Sims looks forward every year to publicly thanking the many partners, staff and volunteers who help make Bryan County Family Connection a success.
Last Thursday, more than 50 people enjoyed a Mexican Fiesta-themed collaborative appreciation luncheon at the Richmond Hill City Center. As director of the group, Sims joked that she simply likes to throw a party, especially if it’s themed, but the reason for the gathering is much more important.
Bryan County Family Connection is at the center of a number of programs that aid local residents, whether it’s planning and coordinating with other agencies, volunteer staffing or funding. Sims went through a list of accomplishments the agency celebrated within the last year.
* Summer lunch program -- Sims said 600 children in Bryan County were fed a free lunch.
* Bryan County Children’s Fund – Provided Christmas gifts for at-risk and low-income families, including 600 children.
* Back to school bash – More than 300 backpacks were given out during the event in Pembroke, and an additional 100 later. It was a huge turnout, Sims said, and will be held again this August.
* Fed over 1,500 people with the community food pantry.
* Helped to house 32 homeless individuals.
* Family Connection is the department that oversees the Richmond Hill Teen Center and the Jacob Grant Community Center. It’s the only after-school program for teens in Bryan County and continues to grow.
In addition, Sims said the agency partnered with the North Bryan Chamber, United Way and City of Pembroke in helping out the families displaced earlier this month in the massive Pembroke apartment fire. $1,000 gift cards were presented to the fire victims.
Bryan County Family Connection is a part of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership, a Georgia statewide initiative of 159 community collaborative partnerships.
Lisa Brewer, regional manager for Georgia Family Connection Partnership was on hand and explained how the groups started and how they have impacted our community.
It was almost 30 years ago, Brewer said, that “Georgia was at the bottom of the barrel in wellbeing for children and families.” She said Governor Zell Miller, at the time, was concerned, and put together a team to explore why Georgia fared so poorly.
“From that, Family Connection was born,” Brewer said. During its first year only about five Georgia counties were involved, but by 2001, all 159 counties participated.
“We are now nationally and internationally recognized,” Brewer said. “I really feel Family Connection has made a huge change in Georgia.”
The numbers bear this out. Brewer said when it started, Georgia ranked 49th in the country in the aforementioned children and family wellbeing statistic. Today it’s 37th place. “I truly look to the day when we are up in the Top 5,” she added.
Sims presented gift bags to the Bryan County Family Connection board, volunteers and staff and recognized the partner agencies.
Family Connection chairwoman Lauren Francis told the audience, “Thank you for everything you do. You make us all a better Bryan.”