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Elks Aidmore shifts focus to foster care

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

CONYERS -- Children and staff at Elks Aidmore recently celebrated the makeover of the residence center's recreation room and are preparing for a larger change as the 33-year-old institution looks to refocus its mission.

Dawn Robinson Butler, development director for the private, nonprofit, residential facility for adolescent females located on Morrison Road in Conyers, said the center has recently begun to emphasize foster care. It's part of a transformation of the center's mission from residential to community-based services.

The center offers services on a 24/7 basis to residents, their guardians and their families. The campus is comprised of four cottages, a gymnasium, an administrative building, a computer lab, a family house, a recreation room, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a pavilion, camping facilities, a ropes course and a lake for fishing and canoeing.

Elks Aidmore received state accreditation to accept boys in 2011 and plans to add new programs geared toward foster care and to help locate suitable foster homes for special needs or hard to place children.

The moves come after a transitional period that began in 2009 for Elks Aidmore where staffing was cut in half and the number of girls living there dropped to 12. Today, Elks Aidmore has 14 girls living on its 125-acre campus.

"We reduced the number of girls, but we wrote in a program to bring boys to the property because boys are very hard to place and even at a certain age if they go to a shelter with their parents they can't stay in those shelters," Butler said.

Foster care in Georgia is a concern for Elks Aidmore, Butler said, as the economy puts pressure on families while shrinking state government funding for programs.

Butler explained the new programs will be rolled out in the coming years in phases as Elks Aidmore finds funding. By 2013, center officials hope to be able to serve 48 youths and families.

Covington's Project Adventure, which served youngsters 12 to 21 who were referred from the Department of Family and Children Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice, closed last summer, citing a decline in referrals and state funding. The organization had headquarters on Elk's Club Road and 14 group homes throughout the county.

However, Elks Aidmore is not dependent on state funding. It plans a three-year fundraising campaign as part of its makeover efforts and receives the majority of its funding from the support of the fraternal organization Elks of Georgia and individual donors. Butler said the center will focus on attracting private and corporate contributions.

She said Elks Aidmore is in a strong position despite the cutbacks it went through in 2009, mainly because of that private support.

"We do not solicit nor do we receive grants from the government, and there's not that many nonprofits that can say that," she said. "Because we don't depend on these government grants, we're not as impacted by grants when the government says, 'You know what? There is no more money and we're changing the budget.' We're not in the background sweating. We never have."

The makeover of the recreation room is an example of what Elks Aidmore looks to do in the coming years. Butler said there had not been many upgrades done to the room in over 30 years.

However, they were approached by Hey Lady Inc., a nonprofit agency in Conyers that mentors young and teenaged girls. Hey Lady, with support from employees of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, Park Springs Inc. and Givens Inc., remade the space in about six weeks.

Butler said they wanted the recreation room to be a place the girls would want to come and "make it their own."

"... because of funding, (we hadn't had) the opportunity to bring it up to more modern standards," she said. "There was furniture in there, but it just needed a redo."