Community rallies to support furloughed employees

wcrenshaw@macon.comJune 15, 2013 

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct date of the SHARE event, which took place Saturday, and to correct the name of the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce.

CENTERVILLE -- In about three weeks, nearly 15,000 federal employees at Robins Air Force Base will begin taking 11 days of furlough, and many found out Saturday they will not go through it alone.

A large contingent of base officials, community leaders, businesses and helping agencies came to an event at the Houston County Galleria mall to show support for the base workers.

A steady stream of the employees flowed in to learn about ways they may be able to get help.

Medley Childress, whose husband, Tim, works at the base, got some important help. Houston Healthcare was giving free blood pressure checks and hers was very high.

“She said, ‘You need to go to a doctor immediately,’’’ she said. “But I can’t really afford a doctor.”

The couple said they have been preparing for the furlough, in which Tim Childress will lose 20 percent of his pay, by making a number of cutbacks. They have cut off their cable TV, stopped eating out, and are considering reducing their four cell phones to one. They have two teenage daughters.

Many businesses offered door prizes, and Childress won a wireless Internet router. It won’t do him much good though, as he is having their Internet service disconnected.

The event is called SHARE, which stands for Sharing, Help and Assistance Resources for Everyone. It was organized by the 21st Century Partnership, the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Central Georgia.

Many local officials turned out, including mayors of all three cities in Houston County, and 8th Congressional District Rep. Austin Scott. Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, and Col. Chris Hill, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing, were also there.

“This community has reached out in all aspects,” George said. “There can’t be a better expression of support than what you see here this morning.”

The furlough may have a greater economic impact than the loss of one day a week of work. The Department of Defense, George said, has also directed a stoppage of overtime to ensure workers weren’t working extra hours to offset the furlough loss. Otherwise, the savings the furloughs are supposed to achieve might not be realized.

Chrissy Miner, chief of operations for the 21st Century Partnership, said everything for the SHARE event was donated, including the space at the mall, so the event cost nothing. Kathy’s Rock even donated inflatable bouncers that were set up in the parking lot for children to have something to do while their parents were inside.

“It speaks volumes to the caliber of people who live in Middle Georgia,” Miner said. “Everyone is doing this on their own time because they are worried about their friends and neighbors.”

Flint Energies was there to tell people ways they can reduce their energy bills, as well as options that might be helpful such as changing their due date or switching to billing based on average usage to achieve a consistent monthly bill.

Financial counselors, family counseling services and others were also available.

Stephanie Cruthirds, a sheet metal worker at the base, said she found the event helpful but also learned she made too much money to qualify for some of the programs she learned about. She is concerned about making ends meet during the furlough period.

“We have been trying to pay off as much as we can pay off,” she said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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