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United Way agency teaches skills that last lifetime
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Evelyn Chavers, left, ParentAid Volunteer, is pictured with recent graduates of the ParentAid program: (l-r) Tiesha Wilson, Vanity Jones and Roxanne Lambert. - photo by Special
    While most people are sitting down to dinner, a group of students meets for a final class.  Their teacher, Myrtis Akins, leads the review of class material.  One student knows the answers, and speaks eloquently, finishing the teacher’s statements easily while others sit quietly, shyly.
    Unlike a typical classroom scene, the children here play down the hallway while waiting for their parents to wrap up the class meeting.   
    Supported by United Way, this class is Parent Aid, offered twice a year with anywhere from 5-25 families participating. It is one of many classes and workshops offered by the Exchange Club’s Family Skills Center to develop parenting skills from many perspectives.  
    Akins serves as Center Director, coordinating the Center’s activities and teaching a variety of classes.
    Other Family Skills Center programs include Teen Mom Mentors which pairs mentors with local teen-aged moms; Seminar for Divorcing Families, a course required for all divorcing parents within the Ogeechee Circuit; Roller Coaster, for children of divorcing parents; and Parenting 101, a set of six-week to one-time workshops which are adapted to the needs of requestors such as parent-teacher organizations.
    Executive Director for the local United Way, Bob Olliff, said, “The programs that are offered by the Family Skills Center are vital in improving the lives of children and their families.  Mrs. Akins knows that the need for the program is great, and really wants to see that the organization has the capacity to meet the growing need here in our community.”
    Akins said, “United Way makes it possible for us to do what we do. When you give to United Way, you may very well be saving the life of a child.”
    The motivation behind the different programs, according to Akins, is linked to Georgia having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with those rates being highest among the children born to teen mothers.
    According to the Georgia Exchange Club’s website, “In Georgia, over 25,000 children are abused each year and approximately five children die from abuse each month.”
    The local Exchange Club Family Skills Center is one of only three centers in the state of Georgia, with the other two located in Rome and Albany. Part of the National Exchange Club Foundation, established in 1979, the center provides family support to prevent or end child abuse.
    Akins’ involvement with the local Center started with a call, and perhaps a bit of a calling.
    As former University of Georgia Extension Home Economist and then Bulloch County Director, Akins had worked extensively in parenting and family education.  She had also received intensive training from extension specialists and other leaders in the field.
    After 30 years, she had retired to create her own kitchen and bath design business out of her home. She said, “I was having the best time when the Department of Family and Children Services called to ask if I would teach a class. Of course that was 12 years ago, and I’m still at it now.”
    In the Parent Aid class, Akins leads the class review, punctuating the air with gestures, writing on the board, and acting out scenarios. She highlights concepts such as listening and discipline, and asks students to share some of what they remember.   
    Tieshea Wilson, who has five sons and has been a parent for almost 17 years, responds, mentioning one of the earlier classes where the students learned about control – that children will be in control, under control or out of control.  
    The Exchange Club Family Skills Center is one of 20 United Way agencies in Bulloch County.  If you would like to give to United Way, send your tax deductible contribution to United Way of Southeast Georgia, 515 Denmark St., Suite 1100, Statesboro, GA  30458.
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