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Connecting Henry gets grant for 'Christmas' families

Photo by Johnny Jackson 
Connecting Henry, Inc., Executive Director Denese Rodgers said she was pleased to learn her organization had been awarded this $7,500 check from Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation to help pay for its "Community Christmas" for needy families.

Photo by Johnny Jackson Connecting Henry, Inc., Executive Director Denese Rodgers said she was pleased to learn her organization had been awarded this $7,500 check from Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation to help pay for its "Community Christmas" for needy families.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

One donation will make a big difference in providing Christmas for more than 2,000 Henry County families this year, according to Connecting Henry, Inc., Executive Director Denese Rodgers.

The Central Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Foundation Board, which oversees Central Georgia EMC's Operation Round Up Program, recently awarded the non-profit organization a "charitable and educational needs" grant of $7,500.

"This is a great example of a worthy organization within our community that can benefit from the Operation Round Up Program," said Randy Dougherty, Central Georgia EMC Foundation chairman. "Of course, none of it would be possible without the generosity of all our participating members, who volunteer to have their electric bills rounded up each month."

The grant will help fund the 2010 Community Christmas for Needy Families Program, according to Rodgers. The decades-old program, also known as Community Christmas, provides families, who meet preset criteria, assistance for the Christmas holidays, including children's toys, clothes and food items.

Rodgers said the funds will go a long way in helping provide a Christmas for a projected 2,500 families who will need assistance this December. This year's program would cost an estimated $85,000, excluding in-kind support, she said.

Roughly, 2,300 families were served during the 2009 Community Christmas -- up from 1,200 families in 2005, and 850 families in 2004. "We knew Christmas would be big," Rodgers said. "It's almost like a seasonal tidal wave for us."

The executive director reacquainted herself with that tall undertaking Monday -- her first day back to work, after a voluntary, two-month-long, unpaid furlough. She said she took the self-imposed furlough to be assured of having enough funding to meet Connecting Henry's staffing requirements for Community Christmas.

Rodgers said the need continues to grow in Henry County, whose homeless population is increasing among both the young and the old.

"I have a lot of adults, who have their children parked in multiple residents," said Rodgers, of the increasing number of transient youths within the county. "They [children] don't have a place to put their stuff. And how do you educate a child that has to live out of their book bags?"

Rodgers noted that her organization, acting as a liaison and clearing house for information and resources, assists as many as 4,000 residents annually when including Community Christmas. Connecting Henry received 1,250 calls for assistance from Henry County residents during the 2010 fiscal year, she said, adding that the prevailing need, among those residents, was related to the issues of housing and utilities.

"It exponentially jumped in 2005 -- not specifically because of Katrina, but that's when the bubble burst," she said. "And the resources are as dynamic as the needs. But sometimes, the resources just aren't there, and that's when it's tough."

Rodgers said Connecting Henry continues to function largely because of its core of benevolent groups and on dividuals, a network of local resources which includes several churches and social organizations in Henry County.

She added that, while her organization makes referrals to state agencies and receives resources from state programs, roughly 85 percent of Connecting Henry's impact stems from the local network.

"I couldn't do it without them," said Rodgers. Their support comes in the form of monetary donations and in-kind donations for year-round programs geared toward "economic development, cultural diversity, success for students, and community outreach."

To become a volunteer in Connecting Henry's upcoming Community Christmas campaign call the office at (770) 288-6230, or learn more about the effort by visiting online at www.connectinghenry.org.