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Athens center to offer family resources

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Imagine there is a 5-year-old boy named Sammy who is a victim of sexual abuse, and he has to tell his story so authorities can arrest the abuser.

There is a place that wants to make it as easy as possible for Sammy to reveal his trauma.

Imagine there is a mother named Markita who has decided her husband has beat her for the last time, and she wants to get herself and the children out of the house.

There is a place that wants to help her through the legal steps.

Imagine there is a single father named Titus whose car broke down and caused him to miss work, and he can't pay the rent and buy groceries.

There's a place that can give him financial assistance.

Imagine there is a young couple, the Johnsons, who are first-time parents who don't know how to encourage their child's development with language or motor skills.

There's a place that can train them to be their child's first and best teacher.

All four can seek help at Limestone County's Family Resource Center in the Crutcher Shopping Center on Jefferson Street. Local judges, advocates and Limestone and Athens officials joined together to put family services in one facility. The center held an open house Tuesday.

For someone like Sammy, there is a child's room that advocates want to turn into a forensic interview/supervised visitation room. Sonya Anthony said a forensic interview room allows a child to talk to one person about his trauma while those from law enforcement and the district attorney's office watch from a separate room.

"That way the child only has to go through the story once and to only one person," she said.

An investigator could use ear mikes to relay questions to the interviewer.

A supervised visitation room lets a parent spend time with a child while being monitored.

"We're seeking a grant through Congressman Bud Cramer so that this can be a children's advocacy center site," Anthony said. "We're also asking corporations or individuals to donate."

For someone like Markita, the center houses Crisis Services. The domestic violence agency attends court with victims, provides shelter and offers support groups.

For someone like Titus, the center houses the Food Bank and Shelter, which offers rent and utilities assistance and emergency food boxes. Director Mike Ford said that since the Food Bank moved to the center in May, it has assisted 850 families with food boxes. Families also can get help of up to $100 for rent, and up to $50 for utilities.

For someone like the Johnsons, there is a new program called Parents As Teachers. Parent Educator Nikki Colwell said the service is free to any Athens or Limestone County family who has a child 3 years old or younger. Once a month, a trained educator will visit a family and help parents learn activities that will develop their child's language and motor skills. The service also offers screenings to detect health or development problems, and hosts parent group meetings.

"We don't want to have to send our families outside of the county for services," said center director LaKenzise Mayberry. "We also want to strengthen our families, prevent child abuse and neglect, and educate parents."

Anyone interested in a center program can call Mayberry at 230-0880. Anyone interested in donating to the center for its child advocacy site can call Anthony at 216-3424.

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