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Rockdale takes top honors for task force

CONYERS - A strong communitywide working relationship is one reason the Rockdale County Task Force on Family Violence was named the task force of the year for Georgia.

"What stood out for us about Rockdale is how they really got the community involved," said Jennifer Thomas, statewide task force coordinator for the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, which gave the award this week during its annual conference in Savannah.

The No. 1 initiative that impressed the judges, Thomas said, was the series of public service announcements broadcast on the local public access channel, Rockdale 23.

"The most powerful one was where the school superintendent, the sheriff, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners and other local residents all talked about how domestic violence is not acceptable and would not be tolerated in Rockdale County," Thomas said. "It was just great."

Rockdale County State Court Judge Nancy Bills has served as chairwoman for the local task force since 2006. She said the membership is "very excited" about the statewide honor.

"We think it validates our mission and gives us credibility moving forward," Bills said Friday. "There are so many task forces and groups that are viewed as a committee to study something. We want the community to know we're not just meeting, but we are addressing issues and making progress."

One of the strongest measures of success for Rockdale's Task Force on Family Violence, Andrews said, is the number of domestic violence-related deaths. The last time there was a death attributed to domestic violence in Rockdale County was in 2006, when six were reported.

"There were zero in 2007 and zero thus far in 2008," she said. "That fact on their nomination form spoke volumes to me. ... It speaks volumes that a task force can have a positive impact on their community."

The Rockdale County Task Force on Family Violence was created in 1995, but had become inactive. In 2006, a few months after Bills was elected State Court judge, the task force was reformed and now boasts a membership of more than 100.

The task force has been responsible for the Purple Ribbon campaign, during which purple ribbons are placed around Olde Town in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness month each October. Last year, the group also placed life-sized figures on county property to represent victims of domestic violence.

Bills said the lion's share of the work is done by those members on the various subcommittees, including public awareness, criminal justice, medical/mental health and education.

"Part of why we've been successful is because we have support from the county and Board of Commissioners, the city of Conyers, the Sheriff's department, Conyers Police Department, the school system, state probation, private probation, parole, counselors for victims, counselors for batterers, former victims, District Attorneys - that's the one goal of a task force is to have communitywide involvement," Bills said. "I accepted the award on behalf of task force, but it's not my award. It's the task force's award and the community's award, and it speaks loudly to the success this community has working together.

For more information on the Rockdale County Task Force on Family Violence, please see www.rockdaleaware.com

Aimee Jones can be reached at aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.