Landmark initiative protects children

By Kerry Coffey and Sharon Crout

Belmont Fire Chief Anthony Segars and his firefighters support the initiative by wearing Strong Communities on their uniforms.Residents of southern Greenville County and adjoining areas of Anderson and Laurens counties are joining Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life to keep children safe.

Called Strong Communities, this is the most comprehensive community initiative in the nation for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. It is building systems of care for families of young children through a coalition of more than 100 churches and nearly 50 civic groups, businesses, schools, public agencies and municipal governments.

Since Strong Communities began in spring 2002, some 3,000 individuals have volunteered their time and talents to keep children safe. Based at The Golden Strip Center in Simpsonville, volunteers represent all ages and ethnicities, with almost as many men as women.

“The Strong Communities ideas are powerful!” said Dr. Gary B. Melton, director of Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life and leader of the initiative. “The desire for a safe community transcends the usual divisions of ethnicity, religion, politics, class, gender and age.”

Strong Communities has already made great strides in increasing connections among people. “We are excited by this program’s potential not only to help children and families in the Golden Strip area, but to serve as a model for similar programs across the nation,” said Rhett N. Mabry, director of the Child Care Division of The Duke Endowment. The endowment is providing support for this initiative.

Larry Turner, volunteer and manager of Aladdin Manor Apartments in the Gantt community noted, “We’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I want to be part of the solution. For seven years I have been looking for an organization to help, and Strong Communities is that organization.”

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