A challenge to connect

November 28, 2018

Extended Family’s 15th Annual Celebration of Life included a personal challenge – to not just communicate with others, but to really connect.

Keynote speaker Morgan County Schools Superintendent Bill W. Hopkins Jr. told his own story of how connections literally saved his life. To say his path started out rocky was an understatement. Mr. Hopkins grew up with a father who taught Bill how to commit crimes and who was incarcerated multiple times throughout Bill’s life.

“I had a jacket made just for me with lots of pockets on the inside,” Bill related. “I could put a whole ham in those things, and who is going to check the little boy on his way out of the grocery store?”

Not only did his father teach Bill to steal, but he abused him physically as well. At one point in his life Bill thought he could find a gun and end the abuse on his own.

“If I had been able to find someone to sell a 14-year-old a gun, you would not have me as your speaker tonight,” Bill said. 

In a turn of events that included a football coach who really connected with young Bill, his focus turned to sports and education instead of a life of crime, which he knew would lead only to incarceration. He was able to begin making better choices, go on to college, and become the community leader he is today. As Morgan County’s three-term Superintendent of Schools, Bill acknowledged the difference in communicating and connecting.

“When you see those students around you who need extra help to make it out of their circumstances, don’t just communicate with them. Connect with them! That is what made the difference for me,” Bill said. “You never know just how big of a difference you can make when you take the time to really connect with a kid. Please make the time for that when you see these students in your community. For me it made the difference between making a terrible choice as a 14-year-old and becoming the Superintendent of Schools. All because someone made the effort to connect.”

Following his inspirational talk, Bill was made an Honorary Member of Extended Family for Kids. Laure Clemons, Extended Family Executive Director, presented Bill with the same Certificate and T-Shirt that Extended Family for Kids student graduates receive. The shine in Bill’s eyes said it all – even though he didn’t have Extended Family for Kids as a child, he was grateful to be an honorary member now.

The Celebration included plenty of laughter, supplied by Barney Fife! This special guest from Mayberry popped into the room to help present the Legacy Award, but, being Barney, he got confused and thought the Award was for him. He sure was disappointed to learn he was only there to present the Award, but took it pretty well when he was offered dinner as a consolation prize.

Extended Family’s first Legacy Award was presented to Lorie Conrad for her help in creating the Extended Family for Kids Curriculum Guide.

“Lorie Conrad wrote the Stress Buster Lesson in our Extended Family for Kids Curriculum Guide,” Laure Clemons explained. “She came up with 14 Stress Busters to teach our EFK students. Repeatedly students tell us how they use Stress Busters in their daily lives. We would not have this Lesson without Lorie, and we are honored to present her with our first Legacy Award.”

Following the Legacy Award presentation, Laure announced a surprise award for the surprise guest. She called Barney Fife to the front to accept the NIITB Award.

Barney was especially excited to receive his certificate. He even explained to the crowd why he was receiving the NIITB Award – because it stood for Nip It In The Bud! As everyone knows, this is one of Barney’s favorite sayings, and he was happy to repeat it for us.

Laure also gave an update on Extended Family activities. Families from around the country have called Extended Family for resources related to family incarceration. She has even received calls from France, England, and Australia! The Going Home Workshop continues to be led in Alabama prisons, teaching returning citizens how to successfully re-enter their communities. Extended Family for Kids enrollment grew by 82% in Cherokee County for the 2017-18 school year. EFK Programs were added in Chattooga County, Georgia for the Fall 2018 semester. Additionally, Extended Family for Kids Training was provided to 70 educators in Morgan, DeKalb, and Etowah Counties. Now those trainees can start Extended Family for Kids in their schools. 

The evening closed with the Celebration of Life reading which celebrates the support families of prisoners give to each other and the incarcerated.

“We were blessed to have many members of our own family with us at this 15th Celebration,” Laure Clemons said. “Our daughter Jessica decorated the room and came with our granddaughter, Allison, and shared grandmother Shari Harris. Our daughter Ryan read the Celebration of Life. Our son-in-law Ryan helped with cleanup. My husband, Jerry, said the blessing. After living through family incarceration, we don’t take family for granted and enjoyed sharing this special evening with them.”

Laure also thanked the Extended Family staff, Cyndi Johnson and Angela Nichols, for their work in putting the event together, as well as the tireless efforts of Extended Family Board Members. Extended Family Volunteer Kellie Renslow was the official photographer. Her photos can be viewed on Extended Family’s Facebook Page. Lanny’s catered the event.

“This evening represents a group effort, and we appreciate everyone coming together to make this 15th Celebration extra special,” said Laure Clemons. “We are looking forward to another year of growth, carrying out our Mission - To Offer Help and Inspire Hope.”