The Ware Children’s Initiative has announced the recent launch of the Stepping Stones project, a self-empowerment program designed to support homeless or displaced women and children who are willing and able to work towards self-sufficiency.
The program provides a temporary residence and wrap-around services to assist families with developing stability in their lives.
“The program’s mission is to change people’s future by helping them change their lives,” said Gail Seifert, coordinator of the Children’s Initiative. “We seek to offer hope and compassion to all God’s people, focusing on women and children, by empowering them with the means to move forward into their future.”
The Ware County Board of Education reports that in the 2013-2014 school year, 397 students qualified as homeless, with 250 students in 2014-2015 and 262 students in 2015-2016 reported.
In addition, the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data indicates that 40.5 percent of Ware County children live in poverty, compared to the rest of Georgia at 26.3 percent.  Further, 17 percent of Ware County children live in families where neither parent has year-round employment, compared to the state average of 8.7 percent.
Parents and children often live in an overcrowded, doubled-up situation with another family or families. They may be staying in a hotel, motel, car or camper. Many are facing eviction with no subsequent address. Most lack the resources and support network needed to obtain access to housing.
The goal of the program is to facilitate the movement of these families to permanent housing within 3-24 months. The temporary housing Stepping Stones offers is combined with supportive services provided by the collaborative partners of the Children’s Initiative.
“We want to empower those we serve to rise above the cycle of poverty and live healthy, independent lives” said Seifert.
There are no shelters for women and children in Ware County. Magnolia House serves only victims of domestic violence.  Sweetwater Baptist serves homeless men. The closest shelter for women and children is The Lamp in Valdosta or The Well in Brunswick, both nearly 60 miles from Waycross.
Stepping Stones does not offer a temporary fix of a night or two in a motel or shelter. The concept of the program is to assess the underlying issues that have resulted in homelessness and offer a comprehensive approach to address the families’ needs.
The program promotes the development of self-independence by giving women the opportunity to develop life skills, promoting educational and job related skills, providing assistance with local resources and job searches, and teaching nurturing parenting skills. In addition, mothers will receive training in personal financial management, nutrition and spiritual growth.
The Ware Children’s Initiative is a nonprofit organization, and therefore, was able to accept a gift of real estate offered to the organization last December that launched the project.
Collaborative partners of the Children’s Initiative are leading and facilitating this project via a team of social workers, as well as an executive committee. There are no paid employees, nor does the Children’s Initiative benefit from any funds that are raised.
The Children’s Initiative board of directors has approved to fund the project until the Stepping Stones program is financially stabilized and becomes an independent nonprofit organization.
“The current goal of the Stepping Stones workgroup is to continue to serve families through our transitional home located in Waycross,” said Seifert. “Our long-term goal is to acquire the assets needed that will allow us to open our doors to more families with a 24 hour paid staff to meet their needs.”
For more information about the Ware Children’s Initiative or the Stepping Stones project, visit http://ware.gafcp.org or send an email to warechildrensinitiative@gmail.com

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