My Turn, Jeannie Sherrill: Happy ending depends on all of us

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 4, 2021

By Jeannie Sherrill

Once upon a time, there was a young agency, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Council of Rowan County, which provided life skills classes to teenagers to help them make healthy lifestyle choices on their journey.

One day, they were approached by some folks from the United Way to talk about supporting the program for teens. As they talked with each other, they identified more needs in the community – especially helping parents and families. They decided to add services to their menu of programs and changed their name to the Adolescent and Family Enrichment Council of Rowan County and became a member agency with the United Way, which provided funding each year to help them grow.

That agency today offers eight programs and is known as Families First-NC, Inc.

That was 25 years ago, and today the United Way is celebrating its 61st birthday while still working with the community agencies to identify needs and to help develop the resources to address those needs. Its focus is very relevant to today’s critical issues as we are challenged to provide services in 4 primary areas: (1) basic needs, (2) healthy lifestyle behaviors, (3) substance use and (4) mental health.

The United Way has partnered with Families First to support services to our families in three programs: (1) the Teen Parenting Program that helps our young parents and their little ones grow up healthy, graduate and be successful; (2) Strengthening Families Program that provides in-home coaching and parent/family classes that build cohesion in the family, strengthen the parent-child bond, teach the children the life skills they need to get along with others and promote their social and emotional well-being; and (3) Second Step provides weekly classes to pre-K, kindergarten and first graders in 10 Rowan-Salisbury schools and teaches our little ones to have empathy and respect for each other, to identify and deal with their feelings, and to strengthen their social-emotional skills and build resilience to the stuff that life throws our way.

Each year these evidence-based programs yield positive outcomes for our 3,000 children, parents, and families — they make an impact. Even during the pandemic as we worked to find creative ways to interact virtually, we were able to stay focused and resilient. Our Second Step Program provided in-person classes to 888 children in seven schools with 100% of sites reporting an overall increase in the social-emotional skills of the children. The Teen Parent Program had 19 teen parents stay in school and 100% of our teen parent seniors graduated. The Strengthening Families Program served 43 youth and 31 parents and 97% successfully completed the class with 100% of parents reporting improvement in positive parenting skills and 90% of families reported improved communication and cohesion, and 80% of youth demonstrated and reported increased social skills and reduced aggression. This pandemic challenged us to be resilient and our families came through with flying colors.

So, does our story always have a happy ending? That depends on all of us.

We all have to come together and share our time, talents and resources — to address those identified community needs — and make the resources available to everyone in our community. This community is blessed to have the Rowan County United Way staff and volunteers working tirelessly throughout the year to bring us together — focus on the needs and challenge the agencies to provide the services and resources to help our community thrive.

We need funding to support the programs and create a happily ever after ending. Give generously: “When our community can come together and inspire one another to give their time, money and talents to go to our community needs, then those resources ultimately flow to our neighbors in need and create a thriving community for everyone.”

Jeannie Sherrill is executive director of Families First – NC.