To understand the significance of what this ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened Thursday in Hamilton, just ask Harris County School District social worker La Chandra Bundage.
“To have something like this come to pass is a dream come true,” said Brundage, in her 27th year working for the district. “I have known for years what we needed. But to actually have the board and the superintendent see that, and for them to see our value, is amazing.”
What they saw this past summer is the vacant building at 106 Mountain Creek Drive, where a preschool had been and just west of Harris County High School off Georgia Highway 116. Now, after buying the property for $315,000, the district has moved its three-person social work department from the central administration’s headquarters into its own facility — called the HOPE Center, an acronym for Helping Our People Excel.
“This is obviously a building that we’re very proud of,” said superintendent Roger Couch, “and I hope the community grows to understand that this is hope for them.”
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Brundage expects the center to “remove the stigma of social work.”
“When people hear the word ‘social work,’ they think, ‘Oh, they’re coming to take my kid away,’ or, ‘I’m in trouble for this or that,’” she said. “But to have a place like the HOPE Center, when you walk in, it doesn’t look sterile. It makes people feel comfortable to come here for help, whatever that may be. Sometimes the help might not be here, but it may be that one of our partners can help.”
That help includes healthcare, housing, utilities, combating abuse and chronic absenteeism, plus a clothing bank and a food bank, where backpacks are filled for needy students. Couch estimated the HOPE Center gives the social work department 20 times more space than it had in the district’s headquarters.
The center has a resources room, an education room and an office for discrete discussions to be conducted. So the department has dedicated space for its parenting program instead of seeking a room elsewhere. And when representatives from law enforcement or the Division of Family and Children’s Services visit, they have a proper environment to meet about sensitive topics.
“We’re able to have the GBI come here and interview a victim,” Brundage said, “as opposed to everybody seeing that person talk to the police.”
All of which prompts Brundage to use these words to describe the way her clients perceive her department now:
“Sometimes, when people walk in, they have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” she said. “This makes them feel welcomed and not feel like we’re out to get them but we’re out to support them.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Here’s a statistical look at the impact the Harris County School District’s Social Work Department made during the 2017-2018 school year, according to information provided by HCSD spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley:
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.