As an extension of our work surround the Barriers to Healthcare for Georgia’s Children report, Voices is proud to announce that we have officially kicked off our very first cohort of the Child Advocacy and Policy Fellowship! The Fellowship continues the feedback loop between Voices and communities in the state and strengthens community champions’ ability to advocate for child well-being at multiple levels of government. Our four Fellows come from  Dougherty, Chatham (Effingham adjacent), Lamar and Whitfield counties. The content of the fellowship is built around the “Whole Child” concept, in an effort to ensure Fellows acquire a foundational understanding in the following areas:

  • Policy, Whole Child Policy, and Equity;
  • Physical Health and Quality Care;
  • Mental Health;
  • Protection, Safety and Juvenile Justice; and
  • Afterschool, Summer Learning & Early Childhood Development.

The Fellowship focuses on the whole child because we know that every child in Georgia can thrive when he or she is safe, healthy, educated, connected to family and community, and prepared to be a productive and responsible adult. Sustaining children’s ability to thrive requires the investment, advocacy and commitment of the entire community. To affirm this belief, our first cohort is professionally diverse, representing multiple sectors of the community (e.g. non-profit/civic organizations, school system, juvenile justice). We are thrilled to have such a knowledgeable and motivated group dedicated to advancing laws, policies, and actions that improve children’s lives.

Meet Our Fellows

Patricia Merritt, Behavioral Health Liason, Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council

After 28 years of service working in communities with children and families with the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), Patricia Merritt joined the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, Inc. (CCSNPC) in October 2018 as Behavioral Health Liaison. Prior to joining CCSNPC, Patricia served as District Director with DJJ covering an 18 county geographical area in Southeast Georgia. She was responsible for the oversight of Juvenile Justice programs in community offices. Patricia is passionate about matters concerning children and families.

Patricia currently serves as Behavioral Health Manager with CCSNPC. She works at the Front Porch, a multi-agency resource center, to ensure youth and families have access to Behavioral Health services based on their assessed needs.

Patricia has a BA in Liberal Arts from University of South Carolina and a MS in Leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She has also completed post graduate studies at Capella University in Public Safety concentrating on Criminal Justice Administration.

Patricia is married with 3 transitioning adult children and 1 lovable pooch, Pinot.

Julie A. Hawkins, Licensed Clinical Social Worker/Certified School Social Worker

Julie A. Hawkins is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified School Social Worker. She has over 20 years of experience working and volunteering with children, adults and families as a support and guide. Her professional life includes a commitment to serving the needs of Georgia’s children and families as a School Social Worker and Therapist.

Julie received her Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, FL and her Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) from Savannah State University in Savannah, GA. She has completed intensive training in Mental Health Crisis, Suicide Prevention and Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT). She is currently a trainer for Crisis Intervention Teams for Youth (CIT-Y) and presenter for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Ending the Silence.

Julie currently serves as the System Social Worker for Lamar County Schools in Barnesville, GA and previously served as the School Social Worker for Appling County Schools in Baxley, GA. In addition to her work in Education, she has worked in Behavioral Health as Clinical Director for Counseling with Georgia Baptist Children’s Home and Family Ministries, Meansville, GA and Therapist for Cord of Three Counseling Services, Waycross, GA. She has taught Human Services and Communication classes for Altamaha Technical College (now Coastal Pines Technical College) Baxley, GA and Psychology courses at the US Army School of the Americas in Panama, Central America.

Suzanne Harbin, Director, Early Childhood Initiative at the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia.

ECI strives to assure that children in their community have access to high quality resources so that they are ready for school and reading on grade level by 3rd grade.

Whitfield/Dalton has received state and national recognition and over 9 million dollars in funding including:  the PBS Kids Family Initiative Grant; and was named a Pacesetter Community by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading in both 2017 and 2019.

Angie Barber, Director of Network of Trust School Health Program, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Angie Barber is currently the Director of Network of Trust School Health Program, a division of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. In this role, she provides leadership to the Network of Trust and School Health Program staff and students.  She has over 25 years of experience providing direction, strategy, coordination, program implementation, grant partnerships, expansion, operations and evaluation of nurses training and schedules. She is a presenter for state and national conferences and serves as community liaison including:  Educational training, organization and communication for the Community Outreach services in the Dougherty County area.  Community Service:  Heart of Service,  Committee Chair for the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Centennial  Children’s Committee, Co-Chair for  Rachel’s Challenge Committee, Albany Area Primary Health Care School Based Community Health Center Partner, G-CAPP: Southwest Georgia Grassroots Advocacy, Taking Time for Teens Coalition, Georgia Association of School Nurses , The Lily Pad Board of Directors, VOICES Fellowship 2019,  VOICES for Georgia’s Children, Albany Museum of Art: Trustee, Family Literacy and Family Connections, Albany State University: College and Business, DCSS: Charter System-Local School Governance Team Member,  DCSS: School Garden Project with the UGA School Garden team, Morehouse School of Medicine: Opioid Prevention Grant and  Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative Community Advisory Group – Chairperson and Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia.  Her passion is in community outreach, the joy in helping others, and leading the way to helping others to be successful. With her compassionate heart, wisdom, and joyful attitude, she sheds light on those who face many challenges.