Splashing into retirement

Roberta Charbonneau

After making a splash for more than 10 years serving children and families through Family Connection of Gordon County, Roberta Charbonneau reflects on the impact she’s made to the community after announcing her retirement

Big changes are coming to Family Connection of Gordon County with the retirement of coordinator Roberta Charbonneau this summer.

Established in Gordon County in 1994, Family Connection works in partnership with the community, policymakers, service providers, businesses, advocates and families to improve the well-being of the children, families and communities in Gordon County. The collaborative is multi-tiered and is made up of a board of directors from the local school systems, Gordon County Department of Family and Children Services, Family Resource Center, Boys and Girls Club, Gordon County Health Department, Voluntary Action Center, Highland Rivers, Gordon Hospital and United Way of Gordon County, just to name a few.

Charbonneau has been with Family Connection since January 2008 and has seen many changes over the past 10 years.

“It was heartening to me that when we were challenged by the state to identify the role Family Connection makes in Gordon County, unanimously, the Board said, ‘Partner Engagement,’” said Charbonneau. “So, identifying those partners and bringing them to the table and getting their information so that we have the resources. That to me, hands-down, was the role. I have made this kind of like a PR agency to support these other agencies.”

Charbonneau says that Family Connection works as an organizer for the community to address problems and that the majority of her works involves pushing data and information to other agencies to aid them in their work within the county.

“Information sharing,” said Charbonneau of the majority of what she does at Family Connection. “Share information to be sure these agencies know what is available, as well as the community.”

“Communication has been the key to bringing everybody to the table, and Roberta has done a fabulous job of making sure everybody had every piece of information needed to make decisions,” said Vickie McEntire, a Calhoun native who will be taking over upon Charbonneau’s retirement this summer. “It takes someone with a big heart to get all of this done, and Roberta has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen.”

“Family Connection brings all the players around the table, and Roberta has done that very well,” said Georgette Hunt, Board chair of Family Connections, on the important role that Charbonneau and Family Connection brings to the community.

On this particular day, Charbonneau had her weekly radio interview and discussed Kindship Care, which is just one of the many projects Charbonneau provides data and support for.

“Kinship Care is huge in our county now,” said Charbonneau. “When I first started, our DFCS numbers were 70 kids in care. But now we’re at 140.”

Charbonneau is discussing the number of foster kids in the community- 43 percent are being raised by a grandparent or relative- Kinship Care. The goal is to offer support to these relatives so that children can stay in their local schools and not have as much upheaval in their life.

“These people need to know there’s support for them out there,” said Charbonneau. “Each of the schools have family engagement representatives. Our schools really go the extra mile, between the counselors and therapists and social workers and advocates they provide.”

Charbonneau monitors and collects data regularly and provides the information to the community agencies to better serve and improve services for the children of Gordon County. Some initiatives that Charbonneau and Family Connection are involved in include Truancy Treatment Team, Teen Health Task Force, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness, Community Summer Education for Youth, Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness and Prevention, Christmas in July, Suicide Prevention Awareness and Support, and Mental Health Awareness.

“I’m really proud to say that all of our schools, with funding from the Council on Alcohol and Drugs, participates in Sources of Strength, which is a federally-approved program for resilience training,” said Charbonneau of the program. With a Sources of Strength program in each local school system, it works as a youth suicide prevention project designed to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy thinking and culture to ultimately prevent suicide, bullying and substance abuse. “I think it helps with paradigm shift in the culture with the students and the teachers and their relationship. That all came about through collaboration.”

“Every school in our community is collaborating with healthcare,” said Charbonneau. “They’ve won the (Georgia) Apex grants and now have a healthcare therapist in every school. So students can see the counselors, but anyone that needs treatment that’s more intensive can see the therapist.” According to Charbonneau, this gives students the ability to see a therapist at school and not have to leave the campus, which helps with transportation and attendance issues.

Charbonneau has left an indelible mark on Gordon County, directing community conversations to tough subjects such as suicide, homelessness and drug abuse to better communicate the needs of Gordon County residents.

“My job has been to promote the agencies, promote the issues and provide data,” said Charbonneau. “Every five years we do a community assessment to see what the community thinks our needs are. Georgia is unique in that we have this grass roots organization dedicated to the children and families of our counties.”

Charbonneau says that upon retirement, she is going to go “hide in my art studio,” but will definitely miss the people she has developed relationships over the years.

“I have loved my job. To be able to set it up for continuity, I’m very happy to do that- it’s a wonderful organization,” said Charbonneau. “This county works together so well. They dig in deep on hard topics and their hearts are for the good of the community. This county cares, and that’s been the joy.”