SAFE celebrates 15 years of service
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA — Representatives from all over the community gathered at SAFE Family Services Center to help the organization celebrate its 15th anniversary Wednesday.

Director Margaret Morton said it is hard to believe almost two decades have passed since the idea for the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement was born.

“Sixteen years ago, a group of people gathered at the Board of Education to discuss drug-free schools,” Morton said. “We talked about our challenges and about what solutions were needed to meet the needs of families in Sylacauga. A year and a half and a lot of blood, sweat and tears later, SAFE opened its doors in October of 1997.”

Morton recognized several people and thanked everyone in attendance for their contribution to SAFE’s mission.

“I ask that you enjoy today as a time of remembrance and a time of recommitment to what works, and that is working together to accomplish what needs to be done for the betterment of our community,” she said.

Mayor Jim Heigl said SAFE is one of Sylacauga’s many blessings.

“What SAFE means to so many of our citizens is a second chance,” he said. “We are so fortunate, and Sylacauga has been blessed in many ways, and this is one of them. The Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement is five beautiful words that come together to make a better quality of life for our families.”

Charon Douglass, vice president of the SAFE Board of Directors, said the organization is the result of many people coming together for a united purpose.

“We all have mentors and special people who contribute to our personal growth and development, just as we have those people at SAFE,” Douglass said. “Some have been here from the beginning and other people have moved in and out of our lives, but all have left footprints for us to follow.”

SAFE’s success is greatly dependent upon the citizens of Sylacauga, she said.

“There is no way to measure the contributions and support of the community over the years,” Douglass said. “It’s not SAFE or the SAFE Board of Directors that makes it happen — it’s just resilient Sylacauga. I am so proud to live here where I know, at the end of the day, citizens are going to come together to do what’s best for the city.”

Founded on the belief that all families have a right to thrive, SAFE offers more than 25 programs in the following areas: case management, information and referral, employability skills and networking, job search, parenting education, marriage and relationship skills, life skills, family literacy, early care and education, youth empowerment, home visitation, adult education, counseling, transportation and health and wellness.

The organization of 45 full- and part-time staff members has received $17 million in grant money over the years and served a duplicated count of nearly 26,000 people last year alone.

Also in the last year, 43 people became employed through the employability skills training program; 100 percent of HIPPY participants benchmarked on the DIBELS test, a state exam for school readiness; 95 percent of students in the summer learning program recovered school credit; and 85 percent of parents and children in the Turning Point program demonstrated improved behavioral outcomes. SAFE also provided 325 with produce from the community garden and made 42,708 trips through the public transportation program — 15,693 of which were employment related trips provided at no cost to the passenger.

In addition, SAFE recently received continued federal funding for its family preservation and employment programs and was awarded part of a $159,000 state grant to Talladega County for parenting education. Morton said the results of SAFE’s programs, which are all closely monitored, have been overwhelmingly positive.

“We have had really good outcomes, and that is the primary reason you keep getting funded is when you can demonstrate that your programs are making a positive impact,” she said.

The total value of services provided through SAFE last year was more than $2 million. Morton said SAFE is tracking at a 100 percent return rate on its investments. For every dollar spent, it returns $2 in services provided.

“That’s phenomenal, and part of that is because the essence of SAFE is a collaborative effort,” she said. “We work with virtually every entity in the community, so nobody bears the whole burden of a program. It’s a collective impact initiative that results in considerable collective action.”

Douglass said the organization has become stronger over the years and is supported by a dedicated staff.

“You learn more from your mistakes than your successes, and one thing we have learned is to be resilient,” she said. “SAFE is a resilient organization because of the people who work here. They catch the fever and become committed. As a nonprofit organization, sometimes we have hung on by a hair, but the staff is always committed to our mission. Every day we can open the doors and serve families in Sylacauga is a good day.”

For more information about SAFE, call 256-245-4343.

Contact Emily Adams at

© 2012