In 2019, 6,723 children in Bartow county needed the services that Advocates for Children provides. Advocates is a non-profit organization that is committed to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. So that means that last year, 6,723 children were cared for, housed, counseled, clothed, fed, helped or some mixture of all of the above just in our community. Advocates is best known as a children’s shelter, but over the last 37 years, they have expanded their services in order to provide the children and families of Bartow County with the help they need to live safely and be successful members of the community. Nathan Kongthum, the director of development, gave us an insight into the organization and how the community can continue to support Advocates for Children.
Advocates has six main programs that they run year-round to assist the children in Bartow county. The CAC (Children’s Advocacy Center) is there to “provide a coordination of services to reduce trauma for children who have made allegations of sexual or severe physical abuse.” In 2019 there were 331 cases where the CAC was involved in Bartow. Kongthum explains that the CAC interviews the children in an environment built to keep the children from having to relive the experiences over and over again. “It’s a comfortable living room with cameras and a speaker and a microphone. We have an expert in the room who is asking the right questions and the reason why we have all of that is because, you don’t want them to relive that traumatic experience three or four times. So, this way we can capture everything on video and then we can use that in court.” The CAC also provides preventative programs to educate the community on how they can help children who are being abused or neglected. The First Steps program is also under the CAC umbrella. Kongthum says of the project that “We visit every new mother that has a baby at Cartersville Medical. Last year, we visited 678 new moms at Cartersville Medical Center. We provide them with the resource packages no matter what their socioeconomic standing is because every new mom experiences the same worries and issues before you leave the hospital. So, we provide them with resources where they might be able to find help.”
Advocates also participates in CASA which is a national program for Court Appointed Special Advocates. Volunteers work as advocates for young clients in and out of the courtroom. Kongthum says that “we run CASA for North West Georgia. Last year, we had 74 volunteers. It is volunteer driven, they need to invest about 40 hours of training and they get sworn in by the judge and it’s very official. They are basically a third party impartial judgment for the well being of the kid.” If you are interested in becoming a CASA volunteer, contact Advocates for Children for more information on how to sign up.
Perhaps the best known part of Advocates is their Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter. They don’t typically allow visitors at the shelter, but since the kids were at school, Kongthum took us on a tour to see what the residents’ lives look like on a daily basis. There are twelve beds total: six for boys and six for girls. The shelter is staffed 24/7 and they have an onsite nutritionist to ensure that they get balanced meals everyday. The children have scheduled outdoor activities and a living space where they can watch TV, play games or just hang out. They also have an Independent Living Counselor. According to Kongthum, her job is to “make sure that homework gets done and things like that. But also, over the summer, a couple of the kids want to get a part time job right? You live in a shelter, what do you put down as my address? You don’t have your own personal phone here. So, when your work calls you and asks you to come in or cover someone’s shift, how does that work? She will make sure that it is always taken care of.” In the facility, they also have two additional rooms for runaway homeless youth. Advocates runs Safe Place, the yellow signs that indicate that it’s a place where people can go for help. Youth can locate a SafePlace and PD or DFCS will call Advocates at any time to come and get the kids. There they can find a room, food, clothing and people who will care for them until a more permanent solution can be found. The shelter is there to provide structure and as much normalcy as possible so that the children will feel safe and secure even in the most difficult situations of their lives.
Hope In Your Home is another segment of Advocates. HIYH is a “Positive Parenting Program” that is there to help parents and families take preventative measures to ensure that the children don’t experience neglect or mistreatment. It’s an educational program that serves the family unit as a whole and provides “information and referral services as needed, transportation assistance, and support group meetings for each participant family.” In 2019 “216 adults and 387 children from 192 household” were served my HIYH and they are anticipating even higher numbers in 2020.
The fifth program that Advocates for Children runs is a national program called Rainbows. This program specifically focuses on grief counseling. Rainbows is dedicated to “helping children heal from painful family transitions, including separation, divorce, death, illness, and military deployment.” They work with children of all ages in teaching them how to cope with grief and even with children with significant behavior problems. And finally, the sixth and newest program that Advocates utilizes is the RISE program. RISE is a program designed to help young adults 18-24-years-old who are transitioning out of the system and into the community as independent people. Kongthum explains “if we have somebody that is staying here and that individual turned 18-years-old, where would that individual go? That individual is ageing out of the system but they are still technically homeless. So, what the RISE program does is pick up from here by putting this individual into housing and we are providing services to make this individual become a member of our community again. Imagine you’re living here, you don’t own the bed, you don’t own a utensil or a pot or a pan, you have your clothes but everything else belongs to the shelter. So, we partner with other nonprofits to help them furnish the apartment, bring them a box of food once a week and at the same time help them move forward. They may want to go to school or they might want to get a job and so we will provide them with a case manager that will help them transition to standing on their own two feet.”
With so many opportunities to help the children and families in Bartow county, Advocates relies heavily on government funding and the aid of the community to keep up with the needs of the children. Kongthum knows the community needs to know more about Advocates so that they better know how to help. He says, “I’ve been here for about a year and a half and what I observe is that we cannot do this alone. We need the whole community to support the organization and know that we are more than a children’s shelter.” Kongthum continued by explaining the three main ways that people can contribute to Advocates for Children financially. Advocates360 is a monthly giving program. For $30 a month, you can help provide meals and essential needs for the Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter and be a “vital resource in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.” All giving for Advocates360 can be done securely online and donors will receive a free T-shirt, a car window decal, a painting from one of the kids and a letter from the CEO, Rachel Castillo.
But if you would like to be entertained while you donate, the Spring Benefit is coming up on Saturday, March 28th at the Tidwell Cabin. The event is called “Gourmet Graze & Raise” and will feature the dishes of The Cartersville Country Club, Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse, Sean Pruitt, Shells & ‘Tails and Table 20. The chefs will team up with a group of local Cartersville personalities to raise money through on-line voting and text-to-donate. Each vote will equal $1 raised, you may vote as many times as you like because all the money raised goes to Advocates for Children. Whoever wins the online vote will have their dishes featured at the event along with a plentitude of other gourmet food and drinks. To vote, you can visit https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/RAISE
Following Gourmet Graze & Raise will be the famous Duck Derby on May 16th. The Duck Derby will be a little different this year from years past. The theme is “The RISE of the Duck: Ducks After Dark” and the purchased Ducks will race down a man-made, colorfully lit river at Sam Smith Park. The winner will receive a $10,000 prize and all you have to do is adopt a duck or twelve. The more ducks you adopt, the more chance you have to win. But Kongthum assures that that won’t be the only thing happening that week. The longest running 5k in Bartow, the Duck Dash, will be back on May 9th and will be kicking off “Duck Week.” Throughout the week leading up to the Duck Derby, you can pay to have a friend’s house “flocked” with hundreds of ducks of all sizes. May 16th will be full of a festival and concert before the derby along with a car show at the Senior Aquatic Center. More information about this year’s Duck Derby is on the way and you can visit their website for details. https://advochild.org/duck-dash/
Advocates for Children is a powerhouse of resources for the families in Bartow County and without them, a lot of kids wouldn’t have the ability to function. The CEO, Rachel Castillo, explains that they are working towards a goal of a one campus organization. She says “we’ve been in this county for over 30 years and we intend to be here for much, much longer. We try to have an impact on our community by coming together as one campus and would hope that we’d still have the same level community support as we try to achieve that goal.” So, consider donating or volunteering in the future and see how your support makes an impact on the lives of the children in your community.