Shirley Meeks was the President of our Board of Directors from 2011 through 2013. Here’s her perspective on the importance of the work we are doing at the Family Resource Center.
After volunteering with PCAH for several years, I joined the Board of Directors in 2008, and served as president 2011-2013. Previous presidents, including Marilyn Motz and Aubrey Motz,had brought PCAH from a small organization with a limited budget, to a successful organization that had recruited many loyal donors, along with winning some significant grants to support new programs. I was honored to get involved in the leadership at this time. My main goal was to increase public awareness of the prevalence and severity of this problem in our own county, as well as, build more financial support for the prevention of child abuse of all kinds in our county! With the combined efforts of the PCAH staff, Board of Directors, and many contributing citizens, PCAH was able to expand its presence in our county. Some of these areas included the expansion of the Stewards of Children program, in which citizens, including all school system personnel, were trained in detecting and reporting child abuse; a promotional video for PCAH, created and donated by a professional filmmaker, was presented in churches and organizations across the county; local media coverage and support increased; a website was established; and well known personalities, such as Miss America 2013, helped to increase support and involvement at our annual benefits. The growing interest to prevent child abuse, and increased involvement of local citizens, businesses, and the PCAH board members in that mission, was exciting!
Personal stories of families helped:
During my term as PCAH president, I was especially inspired by the positive impact that the First Steps and Parents As Teachers programs had on the prevention of abuse to children! I was able to personally witness many of these dramatic changes in families! These programs began and grew under the leadership of Tari Ramos, who remains as First Steps Coordinator today, and PAT Director Carol James, along with Parent Educator, Christina Davis. Both programs had a dramatic effect on the family culture, and helped change at risk families to healthy families where children thrive, and they both continue to do so today! At a PAT meeting, I observed a mom get so excited making a learning game from items in the home for her three year old. For the first time, she realized interacting with her child was essential to meeting his basic needs, and it enabled her to value his growth and development. I saw dads for the first time come with the mother and children to a meeting and join in activities with them. The lack of presence of the father is often a characteristic of a home at risk for the neglect and abuse of children. When at risk factors are removed, child abuse is prevented! Children thrived and through our PAT evaluations, positive changes in attitudes about parenting, and increases in children’s academic levels were recorded. These families, who were at risk for negative experiences for their children according CDC guidelines, were now transformed into families that produced healthy, thriving children. Statistics reflect this change, and these were victories for everyone! Parents as teachers remains one of our most effective prevention programs today! Supporting this program is definitely a great way to help prevent child abuse in our county.
In the First Steps program, each mother of a newborn at Habersham Medical Center is visited personally. Sometimes there are as many as 400 newborns a year. I was able to go along on a visit one day and observed the amazing support and encouragement offered to one of these mothers. There was no family available to support this young mom, and no stable home waiting for her and the baby. Statistics reveal that this situation increases the likelihood of neglect and abuse. As I looked at this tiny innocent creation, I knew that without immediate intervention, this child would not likely get the care and protection she so deserved. But, First Steps was able to find outside resources that would provide her with a place to live, and the support continued long after she left the hospital through calls and encouragement that ensured a great start for that family. I am so thankful that First Steps was there to make the difference and fill that gap! Abuse steals childhood and forces a child to experience a reality that not even an adult should ever have to experience. We cannot put a price on a child saved from abuse! I truly believe in the impact this program has on preventing child abuse and continue to support it!
What brought me to care about child abuse?
During my 32 years as a teacher and administrator in the Habersham County School System, I became aware of the shocking number of children who were subjected to all kinds of child abuse. My heart was broken to see these innocent victims constantly exposed to the exploitation of adults without a voice or platform to object or report. Abused children are shut down by their abuser and unable to tell anyone else what is happening to them. My own sister is an example of that. Only after she was an adult in her 40’s was she able to gain the courage to disclose that she was sexually abused as a child. Because of the fear and trauma that a child experiences from adults abusing them, the average age that a victim discloses their abuse is 45 years old. Some never tell. As a result of observing the devastation that abuse causes in a child’s life, and even their adult life, I became passionate about the need for society to take greater responsibility in preventing these helpless children from ever having this horrible experience.
What part of my involvement with PCAH makes me feel great?
I have always believed that supporting the mission of PCAH, to prevent child abuse before it happens, is one of the most significant things in life that I can do. I can think of nothing more important! I have served as a volunteer, a member, and president of the PCAH Board of Directors, and as a member of the PCAH Advisory Board. But, I feel that one of the most effective ways that I can be involved at this point is to contribute financially to PCAH. We have amazing leadership and staff, and with sufficient funding to support the effective PCAH programs that improve the lives of so many children and families, child abuse in our county can be radically reduced, if not abolished. By getting involved, or supporting, PCAH, we can make a dramatic difference in whether or not hundreds of children in our county will be abused, or will get a chance to be a child who is loved and protected from harm.
What do I want my legacy to be?
My passion for preventing child abuse is even greater today than ever before! I will never forget the first time that a child revealed to me that she was being sexually abused. She was so frightened that she was shaking as she sat in my lap crying. She told me how her grandfather had been touching her and doing things to her (sexually abusing her), and that he had told her that he would come to school and stab her with his knife if she told! I remember that I felt sick inside, and had many sleepless nights trying to understand how this was possible. This was a beautiful little six year old girl in my first grade class! That was about 45 years ago, but, there were so many more after that! Child abuse is still a dark reality today, and is much too prevalent. There were 700 reports of child abuse in Habersham County last year! These victims are already damaged, and they deserve to be provided with whatever is necessary for them to be healthy and safe again. Fortunately, we have agencies that provide valuable help to victims of abuse. But, without prevention programs, this problem will only continue to grow. We must be smart and intentional, and realize that the key is to provide all the support possible to prevent it before it happens, and stop the vicious cycle. It is my belief that if more people in our community had a deeper understanding of the tragedy of child abuse, they would have a greater passion for saving our children. With more people involved in this goal, we could change the culture of our county, from a place where there of 500-700 reports of abuse each year, to a place where we could boast that all children in Habersham County live in safe and healthy home environments. Could there possibly be a
better goal than that?
How will the world be different because of my involvement with PCAH?
So, my belief is that we must decide how much we care about whether or not a child is abused, and how much we are willing to be a part of the solution. Helping to save a child from being a victim of abuse, often means helping programs that save the family! We all know that the statistics of adults who were victims of abuse as a child are high for alcoholism, depression, addiction, poor health, incarceration, and becoming a child abuser themselves! Since child abuse is often cyclical, once it is stopped in one family, it is usually stopped for the next generations to come also. For every at risk family that we can redirect from the path of abuse to the path of raising children in a safe and happy home, we have saved at least one life, and maybe many. To have a healthy society, we must make sure we give our children a safe and healthy childhood. Regardless of how you help, EVERYONE can help, and each person that supports our mission has an impact on changing a child’s life forever!
-Written by Shirley Meeks
Consider giving in honor of Shirley’s legacy and help us give children a safe and healthy childhood!