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Mid-Coast recommits to serve those with needs

By BY GINNY STAFFORD
Sept. 6, 2013 at 4:06 a.m.

Ginny Stafford

Mid-Coast Family Services is in the business of helping others. Every day, we help and advocate for persons who have been impacted by the devastation caused by family violence, homelessness, sexual assault and substance abuse.

But just a few weeks ago, we found ourselves on the other side of the desk. We needed help, and we needed it fast. On July 31, we were notified by the Department of State Health Services that we would not be funded to provide drug prevention services for youth in fiscal year 2014, a program we had successfully provided for more than 15 years at about $1.15 million annually.

To lose that program meant that our agency budget would be slashed by about 40 percent. It meant that about 15 staff members would lose their jobs. But most importantly, it meant than more than 8,000 kids in 50 schools in the Golden Crescent area would not be given the social and educational tools needed to avoid the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Without those tools, kids would only hear about drug use from their peers, siblings, music videos and the media.

So, under the leadership of our agency's Board of Directors and specifically Trey Edwards and Lane Keller, we contacted Lee Keeling with Walker and Keeling law firm for legal guidance. They all agreed that we had to inform state Rep. Geannie Morrison and Sen. Glen Hegar because the cuts would have a direct negative impact on the schools, youth and communities in their districts.

But before we made a single call, you began calling for us. Friends, teachers, counselors and former staff members called our state legislators to voice their concerns. If drug prevention services were to end for our youth, they wouldn't end quietly or without a fight.

As a result, Rep. Morrison took our plight directly to the commissioner of the Department of State Health Services. Her conversation with the commissioner was successful, and Aug. 5, we were notified that a portion of our drug prevention services would be funded but at a 50 percent reduction.

While we are not happy about the reduction in funding, we are making necessary adjustments. We lost five qualified and talented staff members and eliminated some of our most popular programs, including our annual staff-led Red Ribbon shows for elementary youth, Motivational Productions for older youth and summer camp for at-risk youth.

We are learning the meaning of tightening our collective belts by reducing our office space and cutting other overhead costs. But, though we are not thrilled about having fewer dollars to work with, we are pleased that 10 staff members from Mid-Coast Family Services will still have a presence on many school campuses throughout the area. We will provide curriculum-based support groups for elementary and secondary students and individual counseling for older students who need more intensive services. But despite our financial and programmatic challenges, we are ecstatic that drug prevention will continue on in the Golden Crescent.

While the purpose of this letter is to publicly recognize and thank everyone who assisted us through this time, it is also a public statement of recommitment to our mission. We are committed to drug prevention and are working hard to maximize our efforts. Our staff will serve every single student with renewed energy and purpose.

But this experience has impacted our other programs as well. We are recommitted to serving victims of family violence and sexual assault. We are more compelled to serve persons who struggle with homelessness. We will help others because we were reminded of how precious help and advocacy are when times are tough. We lived it. We will give it.

Ginny Stafford is the chief executive officer of Mid-Coast Family Services. Readers can contact her by mail at 120 S. Main Suite 310, Victoria, TX 77901 or by calling 361-575-7842.

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