John Howell’s column 10-5-12

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 5, 2012

Group home latest effort to provide safety net 

Efforts in Panola County to establish or strengthen societal safety nets have recently moved at such a pace that it is hard to stay abreast of what’s going on.

Wednesday evening, almost by accident, I stumbled into yet another when I responded to an open invitation that Florida Jackson had extended to city officials during their meeting Tuesday. She invited the mayor and aldermen to a “walk-through” at the building on Martinez Street originally known as Johnson College. It is owned now by the Evangelistic Outreach Deliverance Ministry. Jackson represented the ministry at a public hearing seeking a conditional use permit from the city to operate the property as a group home.

A “group home” is a place for children, usually from ages 8 to 18, who have to be removed from their usual abode through the Department of Human Services. Reasons can vary from something as seemingly trivial as chronic truancy to the plethora of threat and tragedy that can befall children in this world today. Jackson said when DHS has to remove Panola children from homes, they often have to place them as far away as Nashville. There’s often no place closer.

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So, usually in the middle of some traumatic family crisis, the child is taken away from his or her familiar surroundings to a place often so far away that family members cannot visit. This at a time when whatever family bonds that exist have already been stretched.

Jackson through the ministry proposes to help solve that problem by allowing these youngsters with home problems to stay closer to family. The name of the facility will be the Jaquieze Hozans and Katie Stevens Outreach Center, she said.

That the need is great was substantiated by those who responded to Jackson’s walk-through invitation. Sheriff Dennis Darby was there along with investigator Albert Perkins. Terry Townsend, Marcus Jones and Darren Ford, all of whom will be working with the center in an advisory/volunteer capacity, joined staff member Shatoya House and CEO Jackson. The questions and answers revealed what a multi-faceted challenge that establishing the group home will be. Questions ranged from security of the premises and background checks for workers, to the building modifications needed.

“Right now, it’s perfect timing,” Perkins told Jackson. “This is a big county.”

The officers reeled off names of contacts within the county who will directly interact with the group home as well as those who can help with volunteer services.

One person asked, “Is this going to get over into the Boys and Girls Club?”

Others agreed that it would not, but the question underscores another need that is developing as different projects are launched — communication among the sponsoring groups. The more that the Boys and Girls Club knows about what Jackson’s ministry is trying to do with the group home, the more likely the two organizations are to complement each other in their respective roles.

We’ve also written recently about the Batesville Safe Shelter that Tri-Lakes Chaplain Jake Julian and other volunteers are launching to protect women and their children who are victims of domestic abuse. Do you see the connection? Projects like these can either bump up against each other or they can fit their objectives together and all be strengthened as a result.

In this county we’ve got numerous civic clubs, churches and non-profit organizations trying to address societal needs, and the more that each knows about what the other is trying to do, the more effectively that volunteer energy and resources can be directed.

The right hand and the left hand need to know what each other are doing.

That’s part of our job at the newspaper, just to facilitate communication between the right hand and the left hand. And we depend on you to keep us informed, let us know what your organization is doing so that we can pass it along to our readers.