June 4th Virtual Transform Westside Summit: Families First

The June 4th Virtual Transform Westside Summit highlighted the work of Families First—a pillar of child and family support providing Atlantans with counseling services, health and wellness education for pregnant teens, early childhood education, life skills for youth in foster care, parenting classes, supportive housing, adoption facilitation and placement, and more. Originally an orphanage on Atlanta’s Westside on what is now the Spelman College campus, Families First has been providing empowering solutions for the city’s most vulnerable population for 130 years. Moderated by English Avenue resident Ebony Ford, the featured panel discussion included key Families First personnel: DePriest Waddy, Chief Executive Officer; Ariel Fristoe, Advancement Committee Member; Dr. Edward Valentin, Clinical Director; Elizabeth Messick-Banks, Director of Quality Improvement and Performance Measurement; and John Kennebrew, Behavioral Health Clinical Manager.

DePriest Waddy, CEO at Families First

DePriest Waddy, CEO at Families First, talked about leveraging strategic partnerships to have the greatest possible impact in the lives of Atlanta children and their families.

We meet families where they are and that’s the nuances of our work,” said Waddy. “You know, we’re really happy that we have Raising Expectations now in our building and have over 100 children coming in every day.”

Families First and its partners scored major wins throughout the pandemic, including helping young victims of sex trafficking find stability and a way forward, as well as helping place foster children with families committed to seeing them thrive.

Ebony Ford (left); Ariel Fristoe, Founder of Out of Hand Theater; Advancement Committee Member at Families First

Ariel Fristoe shared how Families First connects low-income youths to resources to further their creative expression. One such resource is the Out of Hand Theater. Founded by Fristoe 2001, the theater is known for its free Equitable Dinners series as well as Shows in Homes. “These are shows on social justice topics with cocktails and conversations with community partners, including shows on gun violence with Moms Demand Action and mass incarceration with Georgia Justice Project,” said Fristoe. Other areas of focus include HIV testing and treatment and increasing child sex trafficking awareness and prevention. Learn more here.

Ebony Ford (left); Dr. Edward Valentin, Clinical Director at Families First

Dr. Edward Valentin, Clinical Director at Families First and Clark Atlanta alumnus, joined in to explain Families First’s Resiliency Scale. “It’s a 14-item screening tool that we use not only for behavioral health, but other human services and employment readiness…anybody with a score that is 42…and below will be considered in the needs threshold where we are going to be conducting different levels of intervention and prevention models in order to help not only the children, but family.”

Ebony Ford (left); Elizabeth Messick-Banks, Director of Quality Improvement and Performance Measurement at Families First

Elizabeth Messick-Banks, Director of Quality Improvement and Performance Measurement, summarized how Families First’s online portal utilized questionnaires to begin assessing needs of residents in order to best remedy them. Having a system in place to measure the level of need a family is at not only helps program participants through customizing their individual plan of action, it also helps navigate job ready candidates to the best possible opportunities.

Ebony Ford (left); John Kennebrew, Behavioral Health Clinical Manager at Families First

John Kennebrew, Behavioral Health Clinical Manager, shared how he and his team continue to knock on doors to let the community know of the services available to them, “especially about behavioral health services,” he said. “It’s been creating a great deal of impact, you know, especially during quarantine.” Kennebrew continued, “We are seeing levels of depression, harmful alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm suicidal behavior, all of these things are on the rise in the climate right now.” Kennebrew organized block parties throughout the community to continue spreading the word, offering resiliency screenings to attendees.

The Westside revitalization effort is a collect effort. Click now to Donate to Families First or Volunteer.