A program that continues to help local youth ensure that they have stable sources of help when their families are going through tough times can rest assured that it doesn’t matter what time of the year it is, the Dawg House Student Resource Center is going to be there for students in need at Cedartown Middle School.

The program celebrated its first anniversary during the middle of this school year, and since its inception has continued to grow as the school attempts to meet the needs of those middle school students in the greatest amount of need. That was the vision of Principal Shannon Hulsey, which was born with the idea of servant leadership in mind, and to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn no matter their circumstances.

Cedartown Middle School Media Specialist Laura Cox, who helps run the program out of the Media Center, said the center continues through Hulsey’s leadership to not just help provide support to students, but also to seek it from the community at large to help fill requirements for supplies, food, clothing and more.

“She is an ever present source of positivity and encouragement, and her enthusiasm and empathy is contagious and continuously attracts people/services/resources to our school and our ongoing mission,” Cox said by way of an e-mail update on the program in past weeks.

By the early half of the 2018-19 school year, Hulsey said in previous coverage that some 50 students on average were receiving help weekly. In the recent update now a year after its inception, just the Dawg House Backpack Food Service helps more than 68 students on a weekly basis to provide meal options and snacks over the weekends when they need food assistance outside of school.

The program provides those students with drawstring bags to store items so students can receive the help anonymously and avoid others trying to take items on bus rides home.

Along with the Backpack Food Service program, the school also provides a Food Pantry available at any time for students to get items any day of the week to take home, but is mostly reserved for family needs and parents are encouraged to come pick up items, or a School Resource Officer delivers them for those families with the greatest of hardships.

“We have helped 34 families experiencing sudden hardships (like fire, illness, eviction, loss of work, death) so far this year with large quantities of food for sustained periods of time,” Cox said.

The school also provides a clothing closet, helping out around 10 students a day on average with replacing items for those without the means to do so themselves and avoid dress code violations or to replace clothing lost to accidental rips and tears or just on basic need.

One benefit is that with the clothing closet available and areas available for students to change in privacy, the number of disciplinary actions against middle school youth have gone down some, and it cuts down on the time that students miss class because of such disruptions. It also keeps individual students disciplinary record clear as well, giving them more time inside of class and not in in school suspension for repeated violations.

“We have also had 3 Family Night events in which we had our Dawg House — which included the food, toiletries, clothing, shoes, and school supplies closet — open and out for parents to “shop” while the kids participated in all of the events we had setup,” Cox said.

The three events — Open House, Spooky Story Night, and Academic Night — gave parents the chance to gather supplies they needed while youth got to have fun and not worry about what their parents were gathering up.

“Open House was by far our most successful night,” Cox said. “We estimated by counting all the hangers we had left over that we gave away over 350 clothing items, 85 pairs of shoes, all 67 back packs full of school supplies, all 500 toothbrushes and toothpaste sets, all 250 pair of socks, all 450 toiletry bags, and all 300 bags of food.”

Along with the help provided for students in and out of classrooms, they also are getting emotional and mental health support via the Polk School District’s partnership with Willowbrooke at Tanner. Now counseling rooms are setup within the media center in rooms that weren’t being used as much anymore to provide private spaces for counselors and youth to talk along with those already on staff to provide support.

“We have two of the most amazing counselors, Julie Redden and Angelica Mosley who see/conference with every student prior to visiting any area of the Dawg House to ensure that all needs and concerns are met and addressed for each student and follow-up with them as needed,” Cox said. “They also lead individual counseling, group counseling sessions, and provide various student-need trainings, workshops, and lessons.”

Then there’s mentoring programs, like the monthly Take Back Polk mentoring program headed by Commission Chair and Cedartown Middle teacher Jennifer Hulsey, the new Check-N-Connect Mentor Program, and the monthly CMS Mentor Program pairs every adult in the school with at least 8 students in a mentor/mentee relationship for character education opportunities, fellowship, and relationship building.

“We have numerous outside counselors that help us on a weekly basis with counseling and therapy,” Cox said. “We have one full-time therapist/counselor from Willowbrook who has a caseload of over 40 CMS students, and numerous part-time therapists/counselors who visit students weekly from other local facilities including Willowbrook, GA Hope, DFACS, CASA, Lookout Mountain, and Highland Rivers.”

But none of this works without the continued support of the community, which is continues to come in but are always taxed by increasing demand.

The only major needs they’ll have in the future — even with spring approaching — for winter jackets, shoes (especially for boys), girls leggings, boys jogging pants, socks, and toiletries.

The program will always continue to take new or used clothing items suitable for youth in middle school, shoes, hats, gloves, new under garments, toiletries, school supplies, bedding and sheets, and foods that is individually packaged and non-perishable, or that has a pop-top based opening.

Monetary donations for The Dawg House are also accepted, and cash donations or check can be made payable to Cedartown Middle School.

Those who want to help youth who are able to receive help through The Dawg House program can contact the school at 770-749-8850 once students return from Spring Break.

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