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A different kind of schoolhouse

By   /   November 14, 2011  /   Comments

 

Written by Tom Knighton

 

 

It may be red, but the Family Literacy Connection is nothing like the stereotypical little red schoolhouse that is engrained in popular culture. Instead, it may just be the key to solving many of Albany’s problems. The odd thing is that most people don’t know it exists.

It sits on Highland Avenue in downtown Albany, just a couple of blocks from the James H. Gray Civic Center in a neighborhood most citizens go out of their way to avoid. Stop in their parking lot at the wrong time of day, and prostitutes and drug dealers can be easily seen. For Sandy Bamford, that’s all small potatoes.

Day in and day out, Bamford enters the building with one overriding desire, to help educate people who most folks have given up on, including themselves. The Family Literacy Connection is a non-profit organization that has managed to fly under most Albanian’s radar.

The staff at FLC stands ready, teaching adults to help them get their GED certificate, but not just that. Bamford and staff take the “family” part of their name quite seriously, helping teach the parents how to teach their children as well.

Bamford can tell some stories. Many of the parents walk through the door for the first time, hand locked on a child’s arm, half dragging them through the door. The words coming out of their mouths are mean, a mirror image of words used with them at a similarly young age. That is only one aspect of family life that the FLC hopes to – and often does – change for the positive.

The goal is to offer a caring and supportive environment. “Many of the people who come through our doors have been beaten down,” Bamford says. However, after the loving attention of the FLC staff, that starts to change. “You start to care for yourself when someone else shows they care for you.”

Over the past four years, the Family Literacy Connection has had 65 graduates. They’ve also helped 26 families get off of public assistance, and 70 parents have found jobs. In addition, 80 percent of their graduates go on to continue their education in college.

They’ve got plenty of success stories as well. For example, Kate (all student names have been change to protect the student’s identity) came to Family Literacy Connection after completing high school with a certificate of attendance. She wanted to make a better life for herself and her special needs child. She needed a GED diploma to continue her education. Kate applied herself in the classroom and also in sessions with tutors.

After three years, she earned her GED diploma. She was assisted with her application to Albany Technical College by the staff at Family Literacy Connection. She has now graduated as a Pharmacy Tech and is employed at a local hospital.

Mary was initially rejected from entering Family Literacy Connection because of an attitude observed during her entrance testing and interview process. This rejection made her realize that she had blown her last chance. She came back with a better attitude and asked for a second chance. She and her 3 children were accepted in the program. She graduated from Family Literacy and credits it with a new life. Mary has learned that she doesn’t have to be rude, loud, or demanding. She has learned a new way of relating to others that helps her to accomplish her goals positively.

Mary graduated from Family Literacy and is a student at Albany Tech in Criminal Justice. She wants to help others to find a better life.

With such noble goals, and many other success stories, you would think times would be good for any such organization. Not so for the FLC.

Two years ago, the organization lost a large grant that met the bulk of their needs. With the help of State Representative Winfred Dukes, they attempted to secure it again, but with no luck. Since that time, they have been trying to make do.

“It’s been a tough couple of years,” Bamford recounts, “but working with the families is so rewarding, we struggle through it.”

Since the loss of that grant, they’ve managed to make it through with help from all over the place. Lifegate Church, First Methodist Church, Christ United Methodist Church, and First Presbyterian Church all make monetary donations, as does the Faith Sunday School Class at Byne Memorial Baptist Church. The organization also just received a $10,000 grant from the Proctor & Gamble Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Other sources of funding have come in the form of a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Albany, which adult teaching, and the Georgia Department of Human Services which covers the home visits the organization conducts as part of its program. However, the organization’s after school program still lacks funding to the tune of approximately $50,000.

The FLC, which is incorporated under the name “Dougherty County Family Literacy Council, Inc.”, has since had to ask folks for money directly. While that has managed to work for the last couple of years, they have decided to try something new.

On November 18, they will the Family Literacy Golf Tournament at Grand Island Club in Albany. They’re still looking for sponsors as well. “We’re doing great on our corporate sponsors, but we need more hole sponsors,” Bamford said. Sponsoring a hole costs a company $100 and places your sign on the tee box. Corporate sponsorship costs $200 and pays the way for one two-man team and has the company name on all promotional materials for the tournament.

Golfers interested in participating can pay $65 which covers all fees for the tournament, prizes. They’ll be placed with a team for the event.

Family Literacy Connection will also accept donations. Any wishing to contribute can send money to Family Literacy Connection, P.O. Box 1497, Albany, GA. 31702. If you would like to contribute in other ways, please contact Bamford at sbamford.flc@gmail.com.

Classes will begin again in January.

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