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Open Arms Director Speaks to Kiwanis DoCo

Original Publish Date: 
July 28, 2015

Special to the Metro

ALBANY, GA - The issues of child abuse and homelessness have no certain age, race, or economic status, Dr. Fonda Thompson told the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on July 27.

Dr. Thompson, a motivational speaker and ordained minister at Albany’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church, is also executive director of Open Arms, Inc., a child advocacy center the mission of which is “to bring healing, health, and hope to children, adults, and their families in need of support, intervention, and prevention as a result of child abuse, homelessness, or lack of employment.” The center offers a number of service programs, which include:

The Bridge, serving runaway and homeless youth from birth to age 18 and providing necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, recreation, job training, advocacy, education, and medical attention.

The Basic Center Program (RHYMIS) provides short-term shelter (up to 21 days) to address immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth under age 18 and their families. Clients receive emergency shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and health-care referrals, with a goal of reuniting young people with their families when it is safe to do so, or to arrange appropriate alternative placements.

The Street Outreach Program offers street-based education, clothing, hygiene items, survival kits, food, outreach, mentoring, tutoring, and related services to youths who are or have been at risk of being sexually abused or exploited.

The Transitional Living Program promotes independence for youth between ages 16 and 22 who are unable to return home. For up to 18 months, Open Arms provides housing, either in an emergency shelter or an apartment, depending on the youth’s progress and independent living skills, along with basic needs, life skills training, financial literacy instruction, education, and employment services. The program also serves pregnant and parenting youth, preparing them for independent living.

Dr. Thompson was moved to start Open Arms in 1991 after observing a courtroom case involving a 2-year-old girl who had been sexually abused “and had nobody in the courtroom to fight for her.”

“Day after day my staff and I watch kids,” she said, “who have been physically abused. Broken limbs, by kicking, slapping, burning, or pinching. Kids who have been sexually abused by an adult or another child, which includes fondling, penetration, intercourse, exploitation, pornography, child prostitution, group sex, oral sex, etc. Kids who have been neglected, which is failure to provide for a child’s physical needs such as lack of supervision, inappropriate housing or shelter, inadequate provision of food and water, inappropriate clothing for the particular season, and denial of medical care.”

Also, “Kids who have been emotionally abused, which is attitude or behavior that interferes with a child’s mental health or social development. This includes yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming or embarrassment, telling them they are bad, no good, worthless, or even a mistake,” said Thompson.

Currently, Open Arms needs hygiene products and a “lot of clothes. We get a lot of homeless youth who come into the facility with (only) the clothes on their back.” Also, school supplies are needed for kids about to return to school, and “dress shirts and ties are useful for older youths in the transitional program going out for job interviews.”

Thompson added that while most people may think the majority of kids in Open Arms’ programs come from the south or east sides of Albany, “We have kids that come from every area of Dougherty County or from other counties. We have kids with two home parents, and you would be surprised at what happens to children in what we may consider a perfect home.”

Dr. Thompson commented, “It blows my mind what people do and say to children. I’ve been in this field for 20 years, and when I first started Open Arms, I would go home and cry. Now I just get mad, because it makes me angry to see what people, especially grown people (do). I’m talking about somebody’s grandfather fondling their grandchild, or mom’s boyfriend and mom claims she doesn’t know anything. It hurts your heart. It hurts your heart.”

 

PHOTO CAPTION:  Dr. Fonda Thompson, executive director of child advocacy center Open Arms, Inc., speaks to the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on July 27. (Photo by David Shivers)