By Erik Walsh
The News Staff
ATHENS–The Henderson County Help Center has been helping residents in their time of need for more than a quarter century.
The Help Center originally got its start in 1987 as a place where local churches could organize and track where resources were going. Executive Director Leslie Saunders explained.
“There was some overlap on where some of the churches were dispensing funds,” she said. “The Help Center assisted in preventing the same people from going from church to church – making their rounds and starting over again at the first church.”
More than simply preventing potential abuse, the purpose of the Help Center was to find out why people needed help and assist them is becoming self-reliant.
In the early ‘90s, the Help Center finally found its home. First Baptist Church offered a very generous lease on a building at 309 Royal St. in Athenswhere it is to this day. The 99-year lease costs The Help Center a dollar.
“First Baptist has been a continued blessing to the county,” Saunders said. “They are still one of our biggest partners today.”
Another Help Center partner which has been there since the beginning is The United Way. In fact, in its origin the program was called “The United Way Help Center.” Today it shows its support through the United Way Help Line,a clearing house of available resources to individuals and families by locating a way to meet their needs. There is a screening process that includes documentation. Residents may recieve financial aid in dire circumstances but ussualy only up to three times, with six month intervils.
In some rare circumstances these rules can be breached, but the need and situation must be merited and urgent, Saunders said.
The Help Center offers many services including various forms of counseling including assistance to physically or sexually abused children, pregnant mothers, school children and new parents.
Other programs include:
• PEP (Pregnancy, Education and Parenting), a school drop out prevention program for pregnant or parenting teens. The program can provide transportation, life skills and day care.
• SAP (Student Assistance Program) provides therapy services to at risk youth at school campuses.
• CAC (Child Advocacy Program) works with law enforcement, child protective services, the District Attorney’s Office and medical and mental health professionals to assist children from suffering abuse.
• Heritage Keepers is an abstinence and life skills education class developed to equip and empower adolescents to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
For more information about The Henderson County Help Center call 903-675-4357 or visit their website at www.the helpcenter.org.