FLEMING ISLAND – As long as Clay County has social needs, Andre Van Heerden won’t rest.
That often means working nonprofits and faith-based groups to feed hungry children. Or connecting addicts and residents with mental health issues to critical programs. Or making the two-hour drive to Lake County.
The Senior Pastor at Orange Cove Seventh-Day Adventist Church is the driving force behind the Clay SafetyNet Alliance, a group of community leaders, businesses and nonprofits who share ideas – and resources – to solve many of the county’s problems. Now he wants to take the group to the next level by mirroring Lake County’s wildly successful Shared Services Network.
Lake County’s program was modeled after federal program where groups like the Clay SafetyNet report to an executive roundtable made of prominent government, legal, professional, faith-based and nonprofit officials who have the resources to complete projects.
“The executive roundtable can use their influence by bringing the whole county together,” Van Heerden said. “The goal is to bring the county together as one force to take on projects together. We have a new highway (First Coast Expressway) coming in and a lot of development happening. Our needs will grow. We need to be ahead of the game.”
Lori Humphrey is the project manager in Lake County. She told the Clay SafetyNet last month her county found greater success by working in unison to solving issues.
“We talk about collaboration, cooperation, coordination and information sharing,” Humphrey said. “None of that costs money. We need to get together. The money is there. We all have to work together to find it. We found we had the resources. It was a matter of tapping into them.”
Lake County’s Executive Roundtable has 16 members, including the county’s sheriff, superintendent, county commission chairman and administrator of the health department. The board also has several court officials, local and state politicians and publisher of the local newspaper.
Van Heerden has made the four-hour roundtrip drive “six or seven” times to create a foundation for Clay’s program.
According to Lake County’s website, the Shared Services Network helps a community meet the multiple education, health, and social service needs of children in a collaborative way. It’s brought projects in front of decision-makers to the table to encourage coordinated service delivery through interagency agreements, shared funding and policies that encourage shared services. The Lake County project was established in 2003 and was funded through a grant from the Department of Education IDEA. The project is currently funded through community partners.
The Shared Services Network process links the school district with other education, support and social service agencies in the community. This way of work utilizes a representative group of policy makers supported by a steering or implementation group. This forum provides a mechanism for dialogue and community problem solving, encourages shared decision making and shared accountability at the policy level and maximizes the use of resources available.
There were 101 people at last month’s Clay SafetyNet Alliance meeting. Van Heerden said the group now needs work more closely with state, county and city officials who are in position to make things happen.
Keystone Heights created its own SafetyNet Alliance and met for the first time two weeks ago.
“There are a lot of unmet needs in the county,” Van Heerden said. “We need to share our resources and make strategic partnerships. We can’t keep stating our needs and then nothing happens. We need the support of elected officials.”
Inadequate public transportation, mental health issues, day care and addiction are a few of the many issues plaguing Clay County, Van Heerden said.
Shared Services Network does a lot more than finding clothes for a needy child or providing a safe refuge for a victim of domestic violence, Humphrey said. Lake County’s group has programs called “Know the Law” and “Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspective” to narrow the divide, real and perceived, between teens and the police.
“We educate youth and parents about laws and consequences about offenses most-committed by juveniles,” she said. “We want them to know the long-term effects, how that can stay with you for the rest of your life.
“We also create discussion groups between the police and children between 7-and-12 years old so both sides have a greater understanding of each other.”
Some Lake County schools dedicate one classroom for faith-based programs and Bible study. “They’re not baptizing people in the hallway,” Humphrey said. “It’s just another outlet for students to feel comfortable.”
One of the biggest successes in Lake County was an effort to educate parents on infant deaths. The Shared Services Network worked to remind parents of the dangers facing infants, and it resulted in an 80% reduction of deaths.
“You see the great needs of Clay County,” Humphrey said. “Remember, change doesn’t happen with one person.”
It takes a group with connections.