By Valerie Baldowski
Eight Henry County families celebrated the culmination Thursday of a 12-week program created to help families restore unity to the home.
The celebration was part of a commitment ceremony, with a wedding theme, organized by Henry County Life Management Solutions.
Don and Maria Lamb, and their daughter, Kassie, 16, are members of one of the participating families.
"It has given us an opportunity to communicate better," said Maria Lamb.
The couple divorced several years ago, but Maria Lamb said the program helped them put their differences aside, for Kassie's sake, and for their other children, Rosemary, 15, Kelcie, 14, and Meaghan, 10.
They enrolled in the program, she said, at the suggestion of the court system.
Kassie Lamb, who was the "bride" in the ceremony, said the program made a difference in her life.
"I feel more content with my family," she said. "I feel like we can actually say that we're going to improve, and we're going to help one another."
She said her outlook for the future is more positive now than it was 12 weeks ago.
Thursday's celebration was held in a courtroom at the old state court building on Atlanta Street, in McDonough. About 50 people attended.
Life Management Solutions offers programs to teach troubled families time-management skills, the power of influence, the power of authority, and the power of forgiveness, said Michelle Donaldson, senior life coach for the agency.
"When people come in, they think the problem is their children," Donaldson said. "But what they don't realize is, the problem is the environment they've grown up in."
The parents and children in the program need help coping with critical issues affecting the family unit, she said. "The root of the problem is what we deal with," said Donaldson. "It's usually death, divorce, molestation, rape, and abandonment."
As Thursday's ceremony began, four young men between the ages of 11 and 18, dressed as a groom and groomsmen, walked down the middle aisle to the front of the room, which was decorated with flowers for the occasion.
Later, Kassie Lamb and three other young women between the ages of 13 and 20, dressed as bridesmaids, walked down the aisle.
They took their place in the front of the room, then one by one stepped forward, stood next to their parents, and read letters of commitment they composed for their parents. Parents, some in tears, then read the letters of commitment they wrote to their children.
The letters acknowledged past mistakes and regrets, but also described the love the parents and children had for each other, and expressed hope for the future.
After the letters were read, the other children in some of the families stepped forward and spoke of how the program impacted their lives. Other youths who previously went through the program told of the changes in their lives that came about after completion of the program.
Some of those in attendance at the ceremony included Henry County Commission Chairwoman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis; Andy Bush, the executive director for the office of U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.); Marisa Simpson, a representative from the office of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.); and Jen Bennecke, executive director for the Governor's Office of Children and Families.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Mathis congratulated each family on the progress they made during the 12 weeks of counseling sessions.
"This is the greatest program we have in this community," Mathis said. "It takes a lot of guts to step out and say, 'I need help.' But you did it, and you're going to reap the rewards of that."
Donaldson and the agency's other life coaches meet twice weekly with the families, to help them learn to deal with family problems and their symptoms.
Those behavioral symptoms in the children, she said, can include violence, a negative attitude and low self-esteem. The symptoms the parents display can include overspending, poor decision-making, and negative relationships.
Most families who go through the program volunteer to do so, said Donaldson, although some are court-ordered. Some of the children who have gone through the program have been as young as 9 years old, she said. For some, she said, the alternative to the program is jail or a regional youth detention center.