There is no question that Athens and the Limestone County area is a wonderful place to live, work and belong. It has the most beautiful landscapes and downtown architecture. People smile and say “Hello” as they walk by. It is a place where there is a true sense of genuine caring and reverence towards one another. Everyone is your neighbor and no one is a stranger. Southern hospitality is exemplified and respect is freely given. As such, it was an easy decision to open my law practice in Athens nine years ago. I had such a positive impression and felt that anything was possible.
Once I started practicing law, I soon realized that there were things hidden from view. There were children who were going to bed hungry at night. There were children who walked to school in the dead of winter wearing shorts because they had no winter clothes. There were children living in homes with no running water and no electricity. There were children who were living in cars and motels as their permanent residences. These were not isolated incidents. As I talk to principals and educators at our city and county schools, the poverty and desperate situations of our children were very real and very prevalent.
I felt so naïve. I could not believe that in present day Athens, Alabama, you would have children eating out of coolers during the summer because they had no electricity in their home. I could not believe that I had children heating water on the stove to take a sponge bath out of a sink because they had no hot water during the winter. Athens is not a third world country. How could these things happen here? But, they do. They happen every day. I know they happen because I represent these children.
I believe that the true measure of success for an attorney is when your clients never come back to the system. If I have done my job properly, I not only represent my clients in the courtroom, but I find out why they came into the system in the first place. Then, we find ways to fix their current situations, so they do not come back. It may be employment issues for the family. It may be educational issues or mental health issues. It may be dependency issues or economic issues. But, there must be a way to fix those issues to help families and more importantly the lives of children.
One way we combat those issues is through the help, support and guidance of the Family Resource Center. Since they have opened their doors to our community, they have helped countless numbers of our local families who are in need. Their services are invaluable to fill the gaps and provide services that other agencies do not provide. They not only offer services, but they can refer families and children to other resources as well. They have compiled a wealth of information to make sure our local families receive what they need. They provide assessments for families, teach classes, locate low-income housing, and coordinate with other agencies to see that all needs are met.
Over the years, I have referred at least one hundred people to the Family Resource Center. They have provided food, clothing, shelter and education to my clients and made referrals to other agencies for mental health, treatment and counseling. They have helped my unemployed clients become employable and worked with them developing resumes and sending them to job interviews.
As if the Family Resource Center did not already do enough, they give back to the community through community service opportunities. Families they help are asked to complete community service hours to give back for what they receive. It is a cycle of giving that not only helps local agencies but often leads to employment opportunities for the families participating.
I am sharing all of this with you because we are in danger of losing this valuable resource. Currently, the Family Resource Center needs $60,000 to provide for operating and administrative expenses that were lost in their budget due to cuts in grant money and fiscal support. We, as a community, need to band together and see that the Family Resource Center obtains this one-time only funding to continue operating for the 2014 year. Please go by the Family Resource Center and make a monetary donation, ask your Clubs and Organizations to donate, ask your religious affiliations to donate, and most importantly, ask your local City and County Councilmen and Administrators to set aside funds in the budget to donate. Our local families and children cannot afford to lose the Family Resource Center and the help they provide. We, as a community, cannot afford to deny help to the very entity that has given so much to us.
By: Elizabeth A. Halbrooks
Attorney at Law