Advisory focuses on bullying, dropouts
by Sarah Fay Campbell
New Coweta-area organization Family Patterns Matter was unveiled Thursday at a kickoff event held at the Something Special meeting facility in Newnan.
CEO Linda Kirkpatrick said the new organization grew out of 'people coming to me and talking to me [about the problems and needs in Coweta County with middle and high school students.]' Family Patterns Matter has a youth advisory board and 'they are incredible. They are the core of our organization,' Kirkpatrick said. The teens have seen things going on with their peers 'that they think we as the adults should do something about. We know that they can talk to their peers and we can't, so we are taking direction from them.'
Advisory board member Tavaris Johnson is putting together a reading program for children at Atkinson Elementary School. 'He said if children learn a love of reading, they are going to want to be educated,' Kirkpatrick said.
The organization plans to concentrate on 'grandparents raising grandchildren,' youth offenders and school drop-outs, and bullying.
'We're not going to have anything real formal. We're going to have workshops and seminars' and do peer-to-peer mentoring, Kirkpatrick said.
'I'm so excited about this journey we're taking,' said Joyce Edmonson, board chairwoman. 'I'm already impressed with what has happened so far.'
In attendance at the event were representatives of partnering agencies, board members, youth board members, and community members.
'You'll be hearing much more from us and I'm sure you'll be joining us in this campaign to make this world a little better place for the children and the grandchildren and the parents of Coweta County,' Edmonson said. ' I f any of you are interested in helping out, if we have teachers or mentors in the audience, please feel free to contact us,' she said. 'We truly believe that we can contribute and help the youth within this community succeed.'
AnnaLisa Chavez is chairwoman of the youth advisory board. 'Our mission is to empower youth today to be leaders tomorrow. The heart of our mission is just to help kids like us, who may not have been raised in as great a families as we have and haven't had the same opportunities as us,' she said.
They keynote speaker for the event was Coweta Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant. Wyant talked about the juvenile court process, particularly how it will be when the new state juvenile code goes into effect o Jan. 1.
The state's juvenile laws, for both children who have committed crimes and children who have been abused or neglected by their parents, haven't been updated in 40 years.
On the delinquency side, 'we realized that what we were doing wasn't quite working,' he said. 'We were throwing a lot of money at a problem and we weren't really getting great results.'
Juveniles are treated differently than adults because 'their brains aren't fully cooked until they are 25. So they make stupid decisions sometimes,' Wyant said. 'They don't always make the greatest choices. The reason is that they are not fully developed upstairs.'
It's important to distinguish between the sheep and the wolves. 'Sometimes sheep mess up. That is OK. We get them back on track,' Wyant said. They're good kids who 'do things that are stupid or wrong. We get them back on track.'
But then there are the wolves. 'Those are the ones we need to concentrate on, the ones who scare us.'
In almost all cases, behind a child who commits crimes or has other problems is a dysfunctional family.
The court has received a grant to try 'functional family therapy' with the youths who are most in danger of being committed to state juvenile facilities. The counselors go into the home and work with the entire family.
In addition to problems at home, 'education is the key,' Wyant said.
'Those are the keys, education and family. If you don't have those two things we are going to have problems with the kids. It is almost inevitable,' Wyant said.
Wyant said another big problem is kids with mental health issues, particularly teens with bipolar or early onset schizophrenia. 'It is really difficult to treat them; it's difficult to find them resources, to help them. What makes it even worse is when the families turn their backs on them and say, 'I can't deal with them anymore. You deal with them,'' Wyant said.
'I'm the government. I shouldn't be raising your child,' Wyant said. But 'that is a prevailing attitude among a lot of kids with mental health issues.'
Board member Angelica Yanten said she thinks if she'd had the opportunity to be a part of something like the youth advisory board, 'I wouldn't have taken so long to find my way.' There are a lot of kids who have a lot of energy and are natural leaders, but 'without proper guidance, that energy and that leadership skill goes in the wrong direction.'
Another focus is letting people - and foster children know that foster children are not damaged goods, according to Kirkpatrick. She and her husband, Butch, were foster parents and adopted several of their foster children.
Kirkpatrick's daughter Mandy said she came from a home that had 'every form of abuse you can imagine.'
'I think it's really important for people to know that kids that grew up like I did and like my siblings did - it's not a good thing to give up on these kids, turn your back on them and say they are damaged,' Mandy said.
'That's not fair to them. One of the reasons why I am so honored to be involved with Family Patterns Matter is - all it takes is that intervention, that love,' she said. 'I think it is wonderful what we are doing and we have all come together for this.'
For more information, visit www.FamilyPatternsMatter.org or call 404-944-8024.