School system, other organizations provide help kids need

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

Just before the New Year I wrote about IAM4Kids, a nonprofit that works with our school system to help kids who need a little extra support. Kids of all ages across the county need mentors, who are asked to share lunch at school one day a week with “their” child.

The arrival of TCCY’s annual “State of the Child” report brings me back to this subject. The Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth is an independent, nonpartisan group created to improve policies and services related to children. Our Juvenile Magistrate Ashley Dunkin is one of 21 members appointed by the Governor.

The State of the Child in Tennessee uses data to track children’s wellbeing in several areas. I want to share a few findings and information about local programs that help children. All deserve your support, and I ask you to do that in whatever ways you can.

Children under five experience the highest rates of poverty of any age group in the state, TCCY reports.  Because the brain develops so rapidly before age five, additional support for early childhood education is advised.

Today there are a total of 11 state-funded Pre-K classrooms in schools across Lawrence County serving families who meet income guidelines. We also have a Head Start program in Iron City and Head Start/Early Head Start in Lawrenceburg. Head Start is a Federally funded program administered by South Central Human Resources Agency.

Hope Haven Pregnancy Center is a nonprofit supporting pregnant moms and their children up to age two. It provides free pregnancy tests, a limited number of ultrasounds, support groups for moms and dads, and short, computer-based courses that address dozens of topics. Those who take advantage of its programs can receive necessary supplies and equipment.

TCCY says in 2021, child food insecurity varied from 0.0 percent to 26.3 percent in Tennessee counties. In Lawrence County, the number was 11.6%. Like several years in the past, in 2023-24 all Lawrence County schools qualified to offer free breakfast and lunch to all, without any income guidelines. Backpack programs in all our schools send kid-friendly food home on weekends, provided through Second Harvest Food Bank and local organizations.

We are also blessed with food banks helping families make their food dollars go further. Several are church ministries; God’s Storehouse is the largest community food bank and is supported in part by sales at its Thrift Store, 115 N. Columbia Avenue, Lawrenceburg.

“In 2021, Tennessee had 3,962 first-time victims of abuse, representing the fourth lowest rate in the country,” the report says. “Across all victimization, both first-time and recurring, Tennessee ranks 15th, indicating the state experiences higher instances of recurring abuse than others.”

I am extremely proud to serve as Board Chairman for Kid’s Place, a child advocacy center serving children who suffer sexual and severe physical abuse in Lawrence, Giles, Wayne, and Maury Counties. All services are provided free of charge at one of its kid-friendly locations: investigative interviews, forensic medical exams, therapy for child victims, family advocate services for non-offending caregivers, court preparation and support through the legal process. Kid’s Place also provides prevention and community awareness programs.

Two domestic violence shelters serve our county: The Shelter Inc. and Center of Hope. Those who seek their protection very often have children who need services and support. The Shelter Inc. is funded in part by sales of gently used and new women’s clothing and accessories that are donated to Crossroads Clothing for a Cause, 317 Geri Street, Lawrenceburg.

Lawrence County has a higher-than-average number of children in foster care, based on our population. TCCY reports that in 2021 parental substance use and neglect were the two most frequent circumstances associated with a child’s removal from home. Unfortunately, DCS (Department of Children’s Services) reported that between fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2023 the average number of days a child spent in custody increased by two months, statewide.

Grace House is the newest service this community provides foster kids. Without it, children removed from their homes without immediate foster placement might spend night(s) on air mattresses in the DCS office. Grace House provides a real bed in a cozy room, along with clothes and other items many leave home without. Volunteers cook, do laundry and other jobs at Grace House. DCS workers are required to stay with the children wherever they are, until they’re placed in foster care.

Clothe Our Kids is a nonprofit that does exactly what its name indicates. Last year it provided clothes for 689 Lawrence County children, including many in foster care. Like most of the organizations mentioned here, Clothe Our Kids is on Facebook with information about ways to help.

Mental health issues were exacerbated by the pandemic. Nearly 3 in 10 Tennessee students reported within the last month that their mental health was ‘not good’ most of the time or always, TCCY reports. I applaud the Lawrence County School System for adding school-based psychologists and social workers to its ranks to help kids deal with their emotions and circumstances.

The Lawrence County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition provides education and activities designed to keep kids from seeking relief through drugs and alcohol. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes brings kids together to learn and practice Christian principles and gain the confidence to take leadership roles. Thanks also to the Junior Auxiliary of Lawrenceburg for giving local children opportunities they would not otherwise have, like February 9’s Valentine’s Dance for Pre-K through 5th graders.

Again, I ask that you support one or more of these ministries with your time, talent, and/or financial gifts.

Skip to content