Families First Celebrates Grads with Year of the Dad

As we reflect on the flurry of activity that most families experience during the month of May, we often consider renaming the entire month Mayhem!  But as school, sports seasons and other activities begin to wind down into the lazier days of summer; it offers us a good moment to reflect on where we as families may go next.  By taking a second to breathe, to examine what we have learned – both good and bad – we can more deliberately build guideposts to better navigate whatever is to come.  In a continuing celebration of our Year of the Dad, we asked one of our Families First dads to give us some words of wisdom from his years spent with four daughters.  Dr. Gerry White, our compliance and program development manager, offers us great perspective on what grads uniquely need to hear from a dad.  Thank you Gerry, and congratulations to your own grads!

Kim E. Anderson, CEO, Families First, Inc.

Gerry & Fam

Seven Things A Grad Wants to Hear from A Dad

By Gerry L. White

May represents the season of celebration.  Each year parents wait with anticipation to watch their children march across the stage to receive their diploma. Like many parents during this period, I reflect on our investment of time, love and energy ensuring they make it to this significant moment. I recall all the time spent getting them out of bed and ready for school, helping with their homework, completing one project after another — A poster board for the science fair, presentation cards for experiments, cue cards for the Spanish exam, batteries for the robot, a PTA meeting one night and Booster Club meeting the next, prep time for SAT and study time for the CRCT; school performance on Wednesday and debate competition on Friday — It often seemed as if the work would never end.  But it’s all placed in perspective by graduation time.

Beyond academics, I find there is a much greater need to give advice concerning how to survive the teenage years and ultimately navigate through life.  Recently over dinner, I asked my children what advice they found to be most beneficial.  Their answers were very telling and may prove insightful for other dads of grads.

1. Don’t Succumb to Peer Pressure! Apparently my constant reminder that “the most important decisions you will ever make are the ones out of your parent’s presence” sunk in.  That was number one on their list.

2. “Remember, You Are a White”! I’ve always stressed to my children the importance of honoring the family name. Their behavior, good or bad, is a representation of the family. You can learn a lot about a person’s family and values by observing their behavior and treatment toward others.  And every child needs to feel part of a larger group that they represent in the world.

3.  Strive to Reach Your Capacity!  It is not difficult to know your potential.  This is determined by assessing your personal effort and you will always know whether or not you’ve truly  done your best.  Capacity, on the other hand, requires you to strive for a level in which you’ve never obtained; it is not limited to academics, but also includes your charity and demonstrations of kindness toward others.

4. Get Your Fight Right!  I always tell my children to stand up for what they believe.  Each day when departing home, they pass my favorite quote framed “What good is freedom of speech without the power of expression? Express yourself!”  When I hear about challenges with their friends or an issue at their school, I always ask “did you speak up?”

5. Advocate for Yourself!  As a student attending the school of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University, my favorite instructor always told me “If you can’t advocate for yourself, how can you advocate for your clients? While my girls have grown weary of this saying, they’ve shared with me an appreciation for this position. They acknowledge their parents cannot always be there, so they are given the challenge of advocating with facts and less emotion.

6.  Protect Your Reputation:  Of course the advice my girls are most uncomfortable receiving involves boys.  In this area, my wife and I have different approaches: She comes from the perspective of a woman. But as a man, I share with them things which could only be explained from a male’s perspective. I tell them from middle school and through high school boys are under constant peer pressure to have sex, lie about sex or conceal the fact they choose to be a virgin.  This was an issue when I was in middle school and it remains an issue today. To manage this challenge, many boys will try to increase their status by engaging in any form of contact with a girl. If they succeed, it is a badge of honor. For girls who give in (or initiate the contact) it can become a badge of shame.  I often say there are some girls young men will bring home to their mother and some girls they will just bring home.

7. Trust in God and Stand by Your Faith!  This is actually what my children have most loved to hear from me.  Worshiping is central to our family bond. My children are among those who may have little recollection of ever missing church. I advise them “God have given you beautiful voices and you are expected to give praise in return.”  I share with them as their praises go up, blessings do come down. I guess that is why I’m blessed with a beautiful family filled with love, a strong commitment to education and a firm grip on faith.

From my perspective as a father of three, this is the advice every GRAD needs to hear from a dad.  If you haven’t noticed by now, I am extremely proud my children.  Like many of you, I truly believe I have the best daughters in the world. Often times I’m asked how does it feel to be in a house full of women?  I simply say,  “It’s the best odds a father could ever have.”   Responsible fatherhood is a lifetime of Caring Commitment and Consistency, and I wish that for all children from the bottom of my heart!

Learn more about Families First’s Year of the Dad initiative.

The Faces of Fatherhood

Last week, we held our 14th annual Dining for a Difference: Faces of Fatherhood. What an amazing night! The importance of fathers and father figures in the lives of children and youth can be life changing. From the stories shared by the scholarship recipients to Coach Carter to everyone who spoke on stage at Dining for a Difference, one thing was clear:  The impact of a positive adult figure is immeasurable in the lives of all children. The 2012 Dining for a Difference scholarship recipients and other young people impacted by our programs know this first hand. And as Coach Carter so eloquently put it, “we must always be on ready ready” when it comes to making impact on a child’s life.

Edward Washington shared the impact of one intentional relationship witha positive, caring male through Families First and how this relationship completely changed the course of his life and enabled him to become abetter father to his own children. His legacy was strengthened the first day that he walked into Mr. Jenkin’s office. What legacy will you leave?

The generosity shown through text messages, memories, and testaments shared were utterly astounding and we appreciate your dedication to the mission of Families First and being a part of the legacy that we will leave with our community. As we recognized the importance of a Face of Fatherhood in the lives of every young person, we were also reminded that each of us can make a difference through mentoring, coaching, advocating for a foster child, or even something as simple as taking the time to listen to a young person’s story.

We are sincerely grateful to everyone who joined us as we each shared our Faces of Fatherhood and launched our “Year of the Dad.” As a result of your generosity, so far we’ve raised a record breaking $450,000 in support of the children, youth, and families that we serve! Thank you to those who made a gift or a pledge. If you are still considering ways to get involved, here are some ideas.

  • Visit our website to learn more about our volunteer opportunities, our adoption services, foster care services and more.
  • Follow us on Facebook  or Twitter and post a comment on our page.
  • Make a donation (mail in the envelope from your program or to make a secure online donation) click here.
  • If you did make a text pledge – thank you! You may fulfill your pledge by clicking here. You will also receive a text notification with this information.
  • Tell your friends about what you’ve heard and share the Faces of Fatherhood video.
  • Please email us with any other thoughts, questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you so much and see you again next year! To see pictures from the event, Click here.

P.S. Save the date for the Families First day with the Atlanta Braves on June 16, 2012! Learn more and purchase your tickets for the game online and share the opportunity to enter the Faces of Fatherhood contest.

Coach Carter and Audience

Rally for a Cause

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead

For over a century, Families First has successfully advocated for policies that have benefited youth in our community including the establishment of the first city playgrounds, legislation to license the practice of adoption in Georgia, and leading policy changes in the late 1980s to ensure that pregnant teens received the full benefits of a public education. Recently, Families First’s advocacy efforts teamed up with Georgia EmpowerMEnt, The Barton Child Law and Policy Center, Just Georgia, and other child welfare-related agencies in Atlanta to advocate for the rewrite of Georgia’s juvenile code known as the Child Protection and Public Safety Act (HB 127 and SB 641) to allow more comprehensive services for Georgia’s youth in foster care, specifically to encourage developmentally appropriate practices for youth aging out of foster care.

This week’s blog highlights “Rally for a Cause,” an event that Families First recently hosted to engage young Atlanta professionals and encourage them to contact their legislators to advocate for Georgia’s youth in foster care. By engaging the community in ensuring the success of children in jeopardy, Families First hopes to galvanize the community around the issues that youth face and to be the voice of change for a voiceless population. We hope that you will join us in these efforts, it’s easy! All you have to do is read more about the legislation, call your legislator, and speak up for Georgia’s children and youth, who are our greatest progeny.

Kim Anderson, Families First CEO

There are 450,000 youth in foster care in the United States. Of those youth, 30,000 age out of foster care each year without the basic support needed to be self sufficient adults. If you were to take a group of 100 youth in foster care, 25 of those youth would have post traumatic stress disorder, 25 would be homeless, 71 would need government assistance after aging out of care, 42 would be teen parents, and only 3 would earn a college degree. What can one person do to change these numbers for youth in Georgia’s foster care system? A lot.

Last week, Families First and the Georgia EmpowerMEnt team, a group of current and former foster youth who advocate on behalf of Georgia’s foster youth, rallied together to host “Rally for a Cause,” an event to raise awareness about what the juvenile code re-write will mean for the hundreds of youth poised to age out of foster care in the state of Georgia.  About 30 Families First supporters and staff gathered to discuss the implications of the juvenile code re-write and to learn of simple ways that they can help.

“It is important that the laws require developmentally appropriate practice,” says Octavia Fugerson, a junior at Spelman College and a Georgia EmpowerMEnt Advocate, “My needs were a lot different when I was six than they were when I was 16. A re-write of the current juvenile code will be a step in the right direction to ensuring that older foster youth are provided with opportunities to successfully transition out of foster care.”

The re-write of the juvenile code will add a section to mandate the implementation of Independent Living Services (ILP) for all youth in foster care in the state of Georgia. Currently, Georgia does offer ILP services for youth in foster care but the re-write will ensure that all youth have access to these services and that youth who will age out of care will be provided with support that will help them to successfully transition out of foster care and become productive adults. According to Just Georgia, providing quality independent living services to children aging out of foster care reduces homelessness, teen pregnancy, and criminality, and improves educational and employment outcomes, saving up to $3 for every $1 spent.

“It takes a village to raise a child and every person in this room has the potential to contribute to changing the life of a child by speaking up”, says Giovan Bazan, Georgia EmpowerMEnt Advocate, “We all have a part to play in creating a community for children to be successful.”

A lot has happened in the last 40 years. The internet boom; the first African American US President was elected; smart phones are outselling PCs; and Reality TV has become more popular than nightly news. Ok, some milestones are more commendable than others, but nevertheless one thing is certain: it’s quite a different world today than it was in the 1970s. Even so, the state of Georgia‘s juvenile justice code has not been updated in 40 years. The 250-page document has the potential to improve outcomes for children and youth who are abused, who commit crimes or are deemed unruly, as well as youth who are in the custody of the state.

We have an opportunity to change the course that leads to a brighter future for so many youth. Won’t you join us? Write or call your legislator today and tell them to support HB 127 and SB 641. A simple call or letter to a legislator can make all the difference. See resources below that will give you the tools to advocate on behalf of Georgia’s foster youth.

IMG_8959 (2)

Giovan Bazan, Georgia EmpowerMEnt advocate, speaks to the “Rally for a Cause” crowd about the importance of the juvenile code rewrite. 


Mentors for a Lifetime

“…unconditional commitment means simply that there is nothing a teen can do to stop being someone’s child.” 

Pat O’Brien

A mentor can be a friend, a parent, a teacher, a coach. There are few relationships in life that are more impactful than those between a mentor and a young person. It takes all of these people in different roles to raise a child. But what about youth who are in foster care? What does their support system look like? In the U.S., there are over 500,000 children and youth in the foster care system. Unfortunately all to often, people look at the number and conclude that the issue of children in foster care is too big for them to tackle. And this is true; no one person can support all 500,000 youth in the foster care system. It takes legions of individuals with different areas of expertise, interest and backgrounds to support the youth in care. For some, becoming a foster parent is not a commitment that they are willing to make. Luckily, this is not the only way to help. Becoming a mentor is another way that individuals can support at risk youth. Families First offers many opportunities for individuals in the community to be involved in the lives of a youth including our Make it Click mentoring program.  Our Foster Care Program and our Placement to Permanency Program also serve youth in foster care as they navigate through the maze if the foster care system. These programs assist youth in makingpermanent, lifelong connections with caring and supportive adults. Young people appreciate adults, peers, and community leaders who can offer support or assistance for a short period of time but cannot make a long term commitment; mentor for a season. But, more than anything else, all youth need and deserve adults who are in their lives consistently and can make a commitment to be in their lives for the an extended period of time, a mentor for a lifetime. Both options are helpful and necessary but one thing is clear; it takes a caring and supportive network of people and resources, a “village”, to provide a foundation for success for youth in foster care.

This week’s blog is written by Brenda Gillespie, our Placement to Permanency Initiative Manager. This program specializes in helping older youth to develop and maintain permanent connections to adults and community resources that will help them to successfully transition from foster care to self sufficiency.  Who is that person who took a unique interest in you, helped to foster your growth and guided you towards your goals? What if you did the same for a young person who is navigating through the foster care system? Getting involved as a mentor can be rewarding, not only for youth being mentored, but for the adult mentors as well. In fact, research shows that mentoring is an extraordinary experience for all involved. So get involved today, in honor of National Mentoring Month, and make a difference in the lives of Georgia’s children and youth.

Kim Anderson, Families First CEO

There is an African saying made famous by Hillary Clinton “it takes a village to raise a child.”    In today’s society, children are considered adults when they turn 18.  This passage of age ultimately means that the child, now adult, is ready to transition from dependence to independence.  However, this is what we know; every child has a village but not every village is beneficial for a child.  The difference for youth in foster care is that often, their parents [the village] do not provide the care and support needed for development into healthy, responsible, contributing adults.

“Foster care was actually a safe haven for me”, says Cristina, foster care alumnus who lives in Atlanta, “I came into care at the age of 10 and this was the first time that I experienced what it was like to have a family support system in place. Before foster care, my sisters and I were left home alone for days; without supervision and without support.”

Some teens in foster care work hard to develop the skills necessary to live as adults in their communities. However, many teens leave foster care at age 18 and find they aren’t as prepared as they thought to take on all of these new responsibilities.  And sometimes the adult relationships in the life of a foster child do not continue with the child once they age out of care. Unfortunately, this is often the time when they are most needed.

This is not surprising, considering the average age (nationally) at which a young person leaves home and is financially independent is closer to 26! Additionally, most young adults are able to count on the support of family throughout their lives, whether it’s to help celebrate their accomplishments, help finance a car or home or to simply be there when life is difficult.

“When I aged out of foster care, I had to learn how to connect to individuals in the community who could help me to reach my goals. I had several mentors who could support me and help me to make the right decisions. I was lucky, most youth don’t have this network but every young person needs it,” says Cristina.

In the Placement to Permanency Initiative we find that youth in foster care need and want a reliable adult to help them navigate the maze and journey of life to become a successful adult.  They want to reclaim their village and populate it with adults who may not be legally responsible or biologically responsible for their well-being.  These relationships may begin with an adult serving as a mentor for the youth.  But youth need an adult who will commit to a lifetime relationship and is willing to be morally responsible for guiding them in their journey to adulthood.  This kind of commitment does not require that the youth live in the same home with their moral parent nor does it require legal adoption or guardianship.  What teens ask for and what they need is at least one adult who will unconditionallycommit to and claim the teen as their own.  As Pat O’Brien, founder of You Gotta Believe, an adoption agency specifically for older youth, states “unconditional commitment means simply that there is nothing a teen can do to stop being someone’s child.”  Adults who commit in this way rebuild the village resulting in all youth aging out of care with someone in their life. Be a villager and help us rebuild the village for a young person.


The Power of Giving Back

 “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving” 

Albert Einstein

 At Families First, we strive to achieve our mission by providing resources, education, and practical implementation strategies to assist families on their journey toward self sustainability. We engage families and individuals in building stronger relationships and we challenge them to become active agents in building stronger communities.

 This week’s blog is about the residents of Weaver Gardens and their service trip to Alabama.  It is inspiring to witness our clients serving as catalysts for change in the community. These compassionate young women recognized the power of giving back and have demonstrated this by helping to rebuild a community miles away. They recognized that, despite their trials and tribulation, they too have the power to give back and empower their communities. Not only did these young ladies go to Alabama to help a community in need, they also initiated a service project in the Metro Atlanta community, and they also helped with Families First’s Adopt a Family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Setting an example not only for their young children, but for all of us. What is it that you are passionate about? Is it youth? Community building? The arts? This month, answer your calling and use it to give back.

Kim Anderson, Families First CEO

In July of last year, residents of the Weaver Gardens visited Pratt City, Alabama to deliver food and supplies to a community devastated by storms that tore through the southeast in May of 2011. The staff and residents were so emotionally impacted by this experience that they knew that they wanted to return. In November, the staff and residents returned to clean the house of a family that will soon return to their home after months. It was the first time to Pratt City for many young ladies new to Weaver Gardens although the staff had visited early last year.

“I was shocked because I didn’t expect for it to be as bad as it was”, says Bianca, Weaver Gardens resident, “I have never seen anything that could compare to what I saw, not in real life, I mean, you see it on TV. In a movie, they can rebuild and put it back together but these buildings were gone.”

The goal of this trip was to clean and organize homes in preparation for returning families. The Weaver Gardens staff and residents decided to select one house and remove the debris, organize the porch, and clean the interior of the house in an effort to make it not just habitable but welcoming to the family. Each young lady had a role. One young lady, Patrice, expressed that she had a passion for nature and landscaping. She chose to do a lot of the yard work. Another young lady, Bianca, said that she likes helping out with the children and she watched four young babies while their mothers worked.

Inspired by their trip to Alabama, the staff and residents have started a volunteer project in Atlanta to assist an elderly woman in their community. The residents also volunteered to load and unload the food donated to Families First for the Thanksgiving Adopt a Family program, and to sort gifts donated for Christmas.

“I have always had a desire to give back to my community,” says Patrice, “It’s tough going through it but I am just happy to be able to help people who are going through it. I have been in the same situation so I know how it is. It is just in me to do it, to give back.”

This month, take advantage of every opportunity to impact your community by giving back. Whether it is taking an hour to read to students in an elementary school or helping to complete home repairs for an elderly resident, no task is too small when you are committed to impacting your community.

We seek to empower families by providing opportunities to give back. In December, the Families First “Adopt a Family” Program gave companies and individuals an opportunity to support families in need. It also provided an opportunity for Families First clients to serve each other by volunteering to help prepare and organize the hundreds of donations. This month, there are many opportunities to give back, particularly on Martin Luther King Day, a day that many decide to give back through community service. How will you support children and families in need?


“Our nation’s children are our greatest asset and our most precious treasure.”
~ Christopher Dodd

Every child deserves an opportunity to reach for the stars; a chance to make their dreams come true; a family to support and encourage them along the way. Families are the foundation of our community and children are our collective progeny and most treasured resource. Unfortunately, recent statistics show that about one in five U.S. children live in poverty. Children are in jeopardy when their families are vulnerable and communities are fragile.  Families First’s mission is built around strengthening families.  If we encircle families with the necessary support and resources to be successful, children will thrive and flourish and communities will be transformed in the process.

Over time, creating a positive, supportive cycle between the community, families and children will help to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty, hopelessness and failure. This year, Families First served 43,330 individuals through more than thirty programs — nearly 3,000 more individuals than last year. Our reach is a tribute to our continual efforts to enhance and expand the ways we serve the community. What if those 43,330 people served, were then able to reach another 43,330 people just by sharing what they gained from Families First? Ultimately, our efforts to strengthen families and build strong communities will have exponential impact.

As 2011 comes to a close, the impact that Families First has made in the lives of children and families through our programs is undeniable. A young man in one of our Permanency Cooperatives graduated from high school and now attends college. A young Spanish speaking mother was able receive support for herself and her newborn son. A man with a mental illness is now able to manage his depression and live a fulfilling life. Thousands of people were empowered to dream bigger, to accomplish more, and to become better individuals. Take a look around you. What if you could help to build a stronger community by empowering individuals and families?

Join us in 2012 as we continue to fulfill our mission to ensure the success of children in jeopardy by empowering families. Our goal is to continue to implement strategies and solutions that are reproductive; not just by us, but also by the clients and communities we serve every day. A gift you make to Families First today will keep on giving throughout 2012 and can have an exponential return. The impact of your support is far reaching! Each dollar goes toward making sure every child that we serve has the support necessary to grow strong and will help strengthen families and transform lives.

What if you could help to change the course of a child’s life?

Make 2012 a year of great change for children and families in need.


Kim Anderson

To donate, go to www.familiesfirst.org/donate.

P.S. View our 2011 Annual Report and Annual Outcomes report online at www.familiesfirst.org/annualreports.

Managing Holiday Stress

For some people, the taste of gingerbread cookies, the smell of cinnamon candles, and the flickering lights of Christmas trees can create an undeniable sense of holiday bliss. However, this time of year can also be associated with anxiety, tension and stress. In fact, the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey finds that many Americans report money as a significant source of stress in their lives and that many report lack of time as a reason they’re not doing more to manage their stress. During the holiday season, shopping sprees, family feuds, and Christmas wish lists can put extra stress on pocketbooks and wrist watches. Families First’s business Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has been providing confidential counseling to thousands of employees and other organizations since 1963. The EAP provides free short-term counseling, preventive education and referral services for employees and their immediate family members whose respective companies provide their employee assistance services through Families First. 

This week’s blog is by Nancy Wesselink, PhD, Employee Assistance Program Manager at Families First and offers helpful tips for managing stress during the holidays. We hope that you find this information helpful. If you would like to learn more about Families First’s EAP Program, please visit our webpage. Have a great holiday season! 

Kim Anderson, Families First CEO

Although it’s easy to envision a marvelous, relaxed holiday season full of pageantry, positivity, and perfect pies, this is not what the splendor of the season always delivers. For many, this time of year is the most stressful.

If you feel stressed out by the thought of holiday chores, obligations, and the clan dropping in for a spell—or if this year’s circumstances make the holiday season difficult, for whatever reason,—start preparations now to manage your holiday stress.

Along with good tidings come high expectations based on the commercialization of the holiday season, past childhood memories we may long to duplicate, and the expectations of others. If family members count on your “holiday magic” to make every year special—the cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, and gift-wrapping—you likely face a bigger challenge letting go or finding balance.

Here’s how to cope better with expectations, demands, and added pressure during the holidays:

It’s the Most Wonderful Decision of All

Make a decision to take charge and tackle holiday stress. This mentally prepares you to enjoy the time while facing demands of the season with better endurance.

My Favorite Things

Decide on your priorities to make the season meaningful. Did you miss the tour of homes last year because the neighbors next door had their open house on the same day? The idea here is to plan a few “non-negotiable” events for yourself.

There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays

What activities are important to you and your family this year? Seek to trim the “idea tree” to reduce stress from trying to fit it all in. A family meeting to gather ideas can work; chances are activities you thought everyone still wanted are no longer of interest.

Decking the Halls

Are holiday lights on the house critical? If yes, go for it, but if it seems more like a “chore” than a pleasurable task, that’s a clue about its priority and importance to you. Activities that feel like chores get delayed. Pay attention to procrastination. It is insight to help you decide whether it’s thumbs up or down on something that seems desirable.

Blue, Blue Christmas

If the holidays are a sad time of year because of difficult memories or because a loved one can’t be there, create your own intervention strategy. Volunteering for a local charity is an interactive experience, and those who’ve tried it claim it works to lift one’s mood. You will likely feel empowered and more positive, and the experience of helping others anchors you to a memory that lasts.

Over the River and Through the Woods

If you can’t avoid holiday gatherings with family members who are the source of feuds and conflicts, try discussing with kin your desire to avoid conflict. Be up front and ask that differences be set aside. Older adults criticizing teenagers is a famous trigger. So are statements from in-laws that appear critical, interfering, or meddlesome. Self-awareness is power, so you stand a good chance of at least minimizing this behavior.

Silent Night

Know what improves your mood—exercise, positive affirmations, alone time? During the year, have you been promising to do something for yourself, but keep putting it off? Do it now. The holiday season is a perfect time to reaffirm your love, not only for those you care about but also for yourself.

And finally:

How Your EAP Can Help

Holiday stress affects everyone differently, so suggestions here may not match what’s unique for you. Don’t face the stress alone. Instead, talk to your Families First Employee Assistance Program. We can help you find the resilience and strength you need to face any challenge the holidays may bring.

Call us day or night – 404-853-2823

Also, if you do not have an Employee Assistance Program, call the Families First main number 404-853-2844. We are here to help!