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Testimonial: Families First

Families First was faced with a choice. In 2002, the State of Georgia had passed a new law, the Family Violence Act, which was to be implemented as of July 1, 2003. The new law required courts to refer perpetrators of domestic violence to an educational program to learn ways of relating without exhibiting abusive behavior. Families First could choose not to try to become a state-approved provider. After all, in order to meet the new requirements, they would have to undergo an excruciating process of self-examination, consensus-building and teambuilding and at the very least, changing the status quo. Or, they could go for it.  They decided to go for it.

Mary Hammons, Program Manager for the Family Violence Intervention Program at Families First, shares her views on how this worked out:

“The agency started working with Leadership Strategies in the spring of 2002. Staff were divided into teams to examine the various service and structural aspects of the agency. I was the chairperson of the Counseling program team. The team examined all of the counseling services to determine which ones we might propose to expand. We became aware of the new Family Violence Act and knew that one of our offices was already providing similar services, so we decided to propose that we become a state-approved provider and expand our services.

The chairpersons from the various teams formed a strategy team that began a series of meetings with Michael Wilkinson. There were many differing opinions regarding whether or not to do the program and how it might be set up. There was a lot of resistance to any kind of change or expansion at first. We wondered if our meetings and all of our time spent was really going to accomplish anything and make a difference in the end.

But Michael moved on. He led us through many sessions, including a team building and consensus building, brainstorming, etc. One of the key sessions was the financial workup, helping us determine how much the changes would cost and evaluate if they would be profitable to implement. In the end, it appeared that we could profitably provide the services. Once the committee had finalized their plan and proposal, we presented it to Pat Showell, President of the agency, who had us present it to the agency’s Board of Directors. The Board gave us the “go ahead” to do it.

If we had not been formed into a cohesive team, where we were all together and all looking at all of our options at the same time, with someone to lead us, we never would have gotten to this point. What we got was a focused approach, justified from a financial standpoint, with rationalized future financial projections that we all supported and “owned.” By July 1, 2004, we had already met and surpassed our goal of becoming a state approved provider and had over 460 people entering the program.

The decision to develop the program also helped me personally, because I was asked to be the manager of the program. At that time, my position in the agency was being cut, so it was timely for me in order to be able to continue working at Families First. It has been an exciting adventure, going through the process of decision-making with so many opposing viewpoints, and then seeing the program develop and become prosperous.”

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