After multiple texts, running into each other at the local outlets during the holidays, and catching up on social media, a dear friend and I were finally able to meet for lunch. Rachel Castillo is a fearless champion for providing families hope in the midst of life’s challenges. She is a knowledgeable professional in leading non-profit organizations. In July 2018 she began serving as the President and Chief Executive Office of Georgia’s Advocates For Children committed to the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

Rachel led me on a tour of the Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter where I was introduced to several professionals who lead programs striving to one day help create a world where all children are respected and loved, happy and thriving.’ One of those programs is Safe Place. Safe Place is a national prevention program for young people under the age of 18 in need of immediate help and safety.

Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as locations where children and youth in crisis can find help. Designated Safe Place locations display a yellow Safe Place sign, the universal symbol of youth safety. Each Designated Safe Place undergoes training and is listed in a national database with addresses of Safe Place sites. One way children can get help when in crisis is through the TXT 4HELP program. TXT 4HELP is a nationwide, 24-hour text-for-support-service. Children text the word ‘safe’ and their current location (city/state/zip) to 4HELP (44357). Within seconds, a message including the closest Safe Place site and contact number for the local youth shelter is delivered.  The young person will then have the option to reply with “2chat” to immediately text with a professional for more help.

Tracy Arp is Advocates for Children’s Safe Place Coordinator. Tracy shared with me that any business, church, school, fire station, etc. can become a Safe Place site. “We offer training for each site to ensure that the site employees feel comfortable if they were to have youth need the assistance of Safe Place. Safe Place is a national organization, but Advocates for Children is the only one in North Georgia.  Although Advocates for Children is located in Bartow County they provide services to their surrounding counties as well, which include, Polk, Floyd, Cherokee, Gordon, Cobb, Fulton, Paulding, and Pickens to ensure that all youth are safe.” 

How do students hear about it? Most young people hear about Safe Place during school or community presentations where Safe Place information cards are distributed. These cards have the local Safe Place phone number and explains that Safe Place help is free and confidential. Youth also hear about the program through word of mouth, social media, and public service announcements on radio or TV. (from http://www.nationalsafeplace.org)

The week of March 17-23 Safe Place will be celebrating National Safe Place Week and are looking for more outreach opportunities. I will be proposing to our Family Ministry team to undergo the training so that our local church can become a Safe Place site. Our county has only several sites and most are QuickTrip gas stations. I believe we can do this. We are blessed with a facility and a family of faith which loves children and youth. Reading Psalm 27:5, I am compelled!

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27:5

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