Family Connection celebrates 40-year anniversary

By EMILY REED / Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – The Family Connection nonprofit organization, which provides services to those facing crisis, recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary.

“We started in 1976 as the Shelby Youth Attention Lodge,” said executive director Susan Johnston. “What was happening in the country at that time was a lot of young people were either homeless, runaways, or didn’t have a place to go and they were being placed in adult jails. Attention homes started to spring up throughout the country. We had some great leaders in our community at the time who saw a need for a temporary place for the youth in need, which is how we got our start.”

Johnston said two homes were created on property that was leased across from Thompson Middle School with space for six girls and six boys to temporarily stay through Shelby Youth Attention Lodge.

After the initial lease expired in 1986, the organization relocated to County Road 26 on 22 acres of land, which is where Family Connection has remained in existence.

“We accepted our first child on Jan. 1, 1987, and in 1982 we started an outreach counseling program to provide additional counseling to youth,” Johnston said. “We started seeing youth were dealing with different things such as the divorce of a parent, the death of a parent, the lack of communication within a family, and we began working with youth and their parents in 1982.”

Currently, Family Connection’s basic center program will provide temporary emergency shelter while focusing on reuniting youth with their families, whenever possible, or locating appropriate alternative placements.

“We want to help young people feel safe,” Johnston said. “When they come into our center, we bring the family in and it is a team approach. We set goals and work toward those goals. Anything we can do to help young people feel safe, while also focusing on keeping their families in tact is something we strive to do. We want to return those young people to their families and hopefully they will go back and be normal, productive, citizens.”

Oftentimes, triggers for youth to run away from home or remove themselves from a painful situation can be a divorce within the family, remarriage, step/blended families, problems with family rules, discipline, or problems with other siblings, abuse, or substance abuse.

Johnston said Family Connection is an affiliate of the National Runaway Safeline, which can be reached at 1-800-RUN-AWAY.

“We are federally recognized, which means we have beds exclusively for runaways and homeless youth,” Johnston said. “If someone calls that number, they will tell them where the nearest center is and we are then contacted because we are open 24 hours a day.”

Johnston said Family Connection’s residential youth center serves about 100-125 youth each year, and has space for nine girls and nine boys, with six of the beds reserved exclusively for runaway or homeless youth.

Family Connection is recognized as a Safe Place site, and offers a TXT 4 Help program, where youth can text 69866 and connect to the closest Safe Place site. The program is geared toward youth in crisis, who can text SAFE and their current address to the 69866 number and receive a text back with the address of the nearest Safe Place site, Johnston said.

The organization currently has a 93 percent success rate for returning youth to their families.

Johnston said she anticipates Family Connection will continue to develop more programs for young people in the future.

“We are always looking at other needs in the community,” Johnston said. “All of our programs and services at Family Connection focus on the safety for youth.”

For more information about Family Connection, visit Familyconnection-inc.org.