Hightower was the keynote speaker for the group’s 12th annual legislative breakfast at the Carroll EMC auditorium.
Carroll County Family Connection is a cooperative group of various agency and community leaders, whose purpose is to cut through bureaucracy to help promote positive youth development. The group often works with youth, who are experiencing drug problems or truancy and have been referred to the program by juvenile court.
“Family Connection brings everybody to the same table,” Hightower said. “Social workers, nurse, law enforcement, educators and business people get together to figure out the best way to help kids thrive.”
Several youth participants in the Juvenile Wellness Court, a Family Connection program, spoke to the meeting about their experiences and how they were helped.
“I wouldn’t be here today without this program,” said a boy named Ryan. “I plan to graduate from high school and become an electrician.”
Ryan said he is now drug free, has a better attitude and is better able to communicate with his parents.
Another boy said he has been in the program for eight months and it has taught him to manage his anger problems and learn to resist peer pressure.
“I no longer have a desire to use illegal substances,” he said.
“For you guys to be here is truly amazing,” Hightower said. “I commend you for being able to tell us your stories. It’s your stories that help people commit themselves to programs like this.”
Hightower noted that when the Georgia Youth Social Organization released its report in 1990, Georgia placed 49th among the 50 states in the child well being ranking.
The next year, the Georgia Family Connection partnership started doing collaborative work across state agencies and community programs to help children and their families. The core principles of the group is collaboration, local decision making, accountability, public-private partnerships and leveraging resources. It now has programs in all 159 Georgia counties.
“By 2012, Georgia had risen to 37th in the nation in child well being,” Hightower said. “This (Family Connection) is a program that really needs our support and our help. This is how we build better community members. We start when they are young, help them build core values, so they’re going to be productive citizens. It all starts with programs like this.”
Hightower quoted Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Carroll County Probate Court Judge Betty Cason said she has seen 138 cases in the past month where temporary guardianship of children had to be awarded.
“We have to start with the family unit to make a better community,” Cason said. “Then we will all benefit from it.”
Entertainment for the meeting was provided by the Roopville Elementary School orchestra, led by volunteer Jennifer Varconie, and the choral group, conducted by music teacher Lee Ritchie.
Food was prepared by the Carrollton High School culinary arts class.