When children are placed in the legal system, there is an alphabet soup of agencies there to help and protect them, from CASA to DCS, from COP to CFD.
Add one more. MANNA is a state-required community advisory board (Mentoring and Nurturing the Needs of All) that hopes to make it easier for all of these agencies to work together even better.
"Our main focus is nurturing families, assessing needs and addressing those needs," said Jennifer Jarrell, MANNA co-chair. "It is our focus to mentor families and aid them in becoming self-sufficient."
The organization will be located in the Community Outreach Partnership building on Madison Street. It will serve as a sort of clearing house for families with children in need of assistance.
"We will address any of their needs we can, and if we can't we can certainly point them in the right direction to someone who can," said Jarrell. "We are all trying to pull this together and work on this."
She said MANNA is compiling a list of resources to help families find the best source or agency for their needs. MANNA recently sponsored a luggage drive, providing luggage for children taken from their homes with nothing but a plastic bag -- if that -- in which to carry their clothes and belongings.
"We had an excellent response to that," she said.
Members of the MANNA board include representatives from those agencies; Court Appointed Special Advocates, Department of Children's Services; Community Outreach Partnership; Center for Family Development; and others. Each brings his or her own expertise to the table to coordinate and streamline the assistance they provide.
Carmen Breedlove, a CASA advocate as well as president of the Bedford County Foster Care Association, is also involved.
"The advisory board can help all the families in Bedford County with children in foster care, both those with foster children and those with children in foster care," she said.
She is both a foster and adoptive parent and understands how the system can be overwhelming. With help from experts, maneuvering that system can be less stressful, which will be better for parents and children alike.
"We would love to have other groups get involved," said Jarrell. "They could donate money, clothes, toys ... a lot of the time, the state picks up the tab for things like Christmas presents and school supplies, but with the state budget cuts ..."
She said students at The Webb School recently donated 100 pairs of shoes.
"Bedford County is always so supportive," said Breedlove.
MANNA plans a yard sale soon, but hasn't been able to find a location to hold it yet. The organization also needs a storage place for the items that have been donated so they can be organized and easily found when needed.
"It's all at my house right now and you can hardly move," said Breedlove, laughing.
The MANNA advisory board meets every third Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the Center for Family Development on the square. Jarrell can be reached at (931) 703-0667 and Breedlove at (931) 652-0556.