Free To Grow
Family help program designed to deter crime
By C. Ron Allen
May 19, 2001
Delray Beach + Declaring that "Just say no" to
drugs is not enough, a local social service agency has announced plans to work
with parents in the southwest section of the city to help their children stay
away from crime and drugs.
Organizers for Head Start plan to hold
workshops and seminars to show residents how to manage their money, to prevent
domestic violence and how to resolve conflict.
"We find in many families
where there is some sort of substance abuse, there is domestic violence," said
Carmen Nicholas, director of Palm Beach County's Head Start & Children's
Services division. "Exactly which comes first, we don't know. But I think drug
use does contribute to domestic violence."
If the program is successful,
coalition officials said the initiative, named Free to Grow, will allow the
children -- generally from birth to about age 5 -- to grow in an environment
that's free from substance abuse and the problems that are associated with
They also said by targeting the adults, they can in turn teach
children at an early age the dangers of drugs.
"The fact that we're
sending the message later when the kids are in middle or elementary school is
... not acceptable," Nicholas said. "There is nothing, so far, that's targeting
those families with newborns until preschool age, which is one of the reasons
why we're doing this."
The program will be financed through four-year
grants, totaling about $450,000. The Head Start program has a solid track record
in getting federal grants and matching local money, Nicholas said. Plans are to
hire an administrator and six part-time staffers from the community to run the
Early reactions from city residents and business operators are
"If it works, it can only do good. So, I can't knock that," said
William Dames, operator of a coin laundry on West Atlantic Avenue.
However, Adrian Fisher, a lifelong Delray Beach resident, has
"As long as I have lived in this city, I have been hearing
of different programs they have to help us get rid of the drugs in the black
community, and I still haven't seen that happen yet," said Fisher, 47, who works
as for a packaging service. "Not to say it can't happen, but I will believe it
once I see some changes."
The program will target about 300 families of
Head Start children in the area cordoned by West Atlantic Avenue, Linton and
Swinton boulevards and Interstate 95.
Head Start officials have created
an advisory board with representatives from civic organizations, local schools,
churches and businesses in the community.
Besides day care, Head Start
makes sure children get three meals a day, medical and dental care as well as
family support services.
While the Free to Grow program is new in Palm
Beach County, there are pilot projects scattered in California, Colorado,
Kentucky, New York and Puerto Rico.
Free to Grow will become fully
operational in June 2002. Until then, there's a lot of work to do.
going to go door to door and have them tell us what are those things that they
would like to see changed and together work on strategies on changing them,"
Nicholas said this week.
Experts agree there have been several other
well-intentioned programs that turned out to be failures since the war on drugs
began. The success of this is program, Nicholas said, will largely depend on the
"I don't know about guarantee," she said. "What I do know is,
the strategies will be identified by the community, so hopefully that should
increase the chances of success. It's their program, it's what they want to do.
It's up to them. We will support them and provide them with whatever resources
they need to make it happen."C. Ron Allen can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6611.
Copyright © 2001, South Florida