Q&A with Paulette Lemons
City of Residence: Centerville
Occupation: Connections on the Parkway, CEO
QUESTION: What is Connections on the Parkway?
ANSWER: Were a family resource center that provides education, life coaching and hands-on life skills training in a homelike environment. Were available to anyone, but we focus on economically disadvantaged children and adults in our workshops and programs. Our goal is to strengthen families.
QUESTION: How did Connections come about?
ANSWER: Its been an idea since 2008 when I was still a logistics supervisor at Robins Air Force Base. I retired in 2011 after 32 years and began working to make it a reality. As a grass-roots effort, weve already begun with a small number of clients but are still developing programs, seeking volunteers, raising funds and finalizing paperwork.
QUESTION: What do you do for clients now?
ANSWER: Right now, clients come through word of mouth and referrals from other family and children service agencies. I develop an individual plan for each client and work with them in various ways, like in homemaking we may teach meal planning, cooking skills, housecleaning and organization skills; in job searching it might be resume building and interview skills; we teach financial management skills also--those sorts of things and more. As we grow, well enlarge and add programs and seminars for individuals and bigger groups.
QUESTION: Such as?
ANSWERS: Things with titles like Parent and Grandparent Cafes, Breaking Bread Together, Good Hair, Becoming Techie, Scholarship Writing and others related to home, education and family management.
QUESTION: Good Hair and Becoming Techie sound obvious, but what about the cafes and Breaking Bread?
ANSWER: The cafes allow parents and/or grandparents to get together and enjoy refreshments while discussing how to be a truly good parent. We include grandparents because so many are raising their grandchildren now. We discuss how they should take care of themselves, what it means to be a good, strong parent and what it takes to build positive relationships with their children. We want to add father cafés and single parent cafés, too. We want to provide information and skills to suit every need.
QUESTION: And Breaking Bread?
ANSWER: Its teaching how to make meals happier and stressing the importance of cooking and eating a meal together at least once a week. Its about sharing whats going on in one anothers lives in a positive way -- without the TV on. Sharing meals strengthens families.
QUESTION: Is Connections a business or service?
ANSWER: A service to families. Were providing vital services to bridge gaps in families.
QUESTION: What gaps? And why should you bridge them?
ANSWER: In my own growing up years -- I grew up in the 1960s and 70s and am one of 14 children -- my grandparents, aunts and uncles were all there to help teach me. My father built houses and mother picked cotton and they put in long hours away from home. As an older sibling, I was cooking by age 10 and baby-sitting eight to 10 brothers, sisters and neighborhood children.
I think the atmosphere among families and neighbors was different. Homes were different and families were stronger. Even though we didnt have much, we had each other. Now, people hardly value each other as much as they value stuff. They dont learn skills they really need to live. We want to direct values back to valuing one another and knowing how blessed you are even without the stuff.
QUESTION: So your approach is to help children and adults with skills and values?
ANSWER: Absolutely. Heads of households often wont admit what they dont know, but its obvious they dont know it. We want to help everyone learn what they need to know in a positive setting.
QUESTION: Your facility on Carl Vinson Parkway is very home-like.
ANSWER: Its a former home, and weve kept it like a home to teach homemaking and family skills. Weve kept the yard like it was, though we had to do a lot of cleaning up.
QUESTION: You arent doing this alone are you? The yard work alone is a major task.
ANSWER: My husband, bless his heart, is retired and has spent hours helping fix the place up. As for services, we collaborate with other agencies. Weve done cafes with Rainbow House and are working with Habitat for Humanity in a Girls Build program. The girls arent actually building houses but are going to Habitat builds and learning how things are done, learning about buying a home and creating a good neighborhood. We work with others like the Warner Robins Housing Authority.
QUESTION: This is all a lot of work. After 32 years, shouldnt you be out fishing or playing golf with your husband?
ANSWER: I believe its my ministry, my way to give back. Ive been offered jobs, but I dont need more money as much as I want to spend this part of my life helping others. Im truly happy coming here every day to try to make this work, taking these baby steps and using what Ive learned through the years to serve others in our community. Anyone can complain about the worlds problems, but the question is, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to help?
QUESTION: How can you be contacted?
ANSWER: Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone number is 335-4882.
Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com. Answers may be edited for length and clarity.