Pearl River County Family First Initiative tells success stories

November 30, 2018

The Family First Initiative envisions a network of local businesses, churches, non-profits and individuals coming to the aid of struggling poor families, and that is what has happened in Pearl River County.

Speaking to a gathering of the Family First Initiative Steering and Advisory Committees in Jackson on Nov. 29, Pearl River County Resource Coordinator Jansen Owen described help provided to a family whose plumbing problem was about to make their home unlivable, a disabled veteran whose family was left without power after a tornado, a mother whose lack of child care left her unable to work, and a family facing eviction.

Supreme Court Justice Dawn Beam and First Lady Deborah Bryant, statewide Family First Initiative co-chairs, praised the progress in Pearl River County. “It’s just so exciting to see what people can do when they are given an opportunity to work together,” Justice Beam said.

Bryant said, “That’s the success of it – people willing to jump out there and help.”

A local plumber donated his services to repair the backed up pipes, Owen said.

Numerous people came together to assist the family that was without power after the tornado broke the utility pole next to their mobile home. A local doctor reported the situation to Family First as extreme cold weather loomed. A local home goods store donated a power pole. A construction company delivered it, and an electrician installed it, all for free. The county and electric company waived fees.

A kindergarten student with severe behavioral problems spent only mornings at school. The mother, who had to pick the child up at 11:30 a.m. each day, was unable to work because she had no child care. Family First helped her find child care so she could work.

The woman who was about to be evicted needed to travel to Gulfport for an interview to try to get into public housing. A local business paid for the fuel for the trip. Family First helped her find a job at a discount store within walking distance. A local salon owner bought uniforms for the child and treated her to a spa day.

Inadequate or dirty clothes at school, poor hygiene and excessive absences are sometimes indicators that children may be neglected at home, Owen said. “A lot of our work is coming from the school counselors,” he said. After the Family First Initiative began work, schools began calling to get help for families.

The Family First Initiative aims to prevent child neglect and reduce the need for foster care. The initiative works to address multiple needs of struggling families by directing those families to services and resources that will improve family stability and create safer home environments for children. The idea is to identify and coordinate resources, and to connect needy families with services.

Sometimes it’s a matter of walking people through the process to get services such as Medicaid. “You would be surprised how hard it is for people to get resources that are readily available,” Owen said.

The Family First Initiative of Pearl River County has put together a list of volunteers willing to provide services or help in other ways. Owen said Family First spreads around the calls for aid in an effort not to overburden those who have stepped forward.

First Lady Bryant said, “I am especially impressed at Pearl River County going ahead and setting up their resources” the old fashioned way.

A Department of Human Services computer system is expected to identify and help the initiative connect needy people to volunteers and resources statewide, but development of the computer system has been delayed.

The Family First Initiative began organizing pilot programs in six areas around the state in August and September. In addition to Pearl River County, programs are underway in Bolivar, Jackson, Lauderdale and Lee counties and in the metro area of Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.

Pearl River County held its Family First Initiative organizational meeting on Aug. 23. Chancellor Deborah Gambrell, Chancellor Rhea Sheldon, County and Youth Court Judge Richelle Lumpkin and Circuit Judge Prentiss Harrell lead the local Advisory Council for the Family First Initiative. The Advisory Council brought together government officials, private business, faith-based organizations and non-profits to work together.

Pearl River County hired Owen as county resource coordinator shortly afterwards. Owen, who is working toward earning a law degree, previously served as Judge Lumpkin’s law clerk. He now works as resource coordinator under the direction of Judge Lumpkin and Judge Sheldon.

Owen is paid through a grant from the private non-profit Families First for Mississippi. It is a different entity with a name similar to the Family First Initiative. The Department of Human Services contracts with the private non-profit as a gateway, coordinator and provider of community-based non-government services including literacy, GED training, technical training, job searches, parenting skills, conflict resolution and anger management. The non-profit either provides the services or finds an entity which does. Families First for Mississippi works in all 82 counties.

For more information, contact Pearl River County Resource Coordinator Jansen Owen at 601-749-7764.