Autauga Family Support Center gives hope to children and families who have none

Darrue Fank, Executive Director of the Family Support Center - Photo by Marc Parker

Prattville – Not every adult or child in society is fortunate enough to have the training and skills to succeed in life. Many cannot gain employment because they have not completed high school; others may fall into a life of crime at a young age or have babies without knowing how to care for them.

Some may have anger issues they cannot resolve on their own, perhaps stemming from emotional or physical abuse in the home. They may not know where to turn for relief, but help is indeed out there.

The Autauga Family Support Center is a private, non-profit organization that has provided a range of services in Autauga and Elmore counties since 1997. The rent-free building in downtown Prattville was donated by the city.

For funding, the center relies on grants from different agencies and from fundraisers such as the Mardi Gras Bash that was held Friday night at the Doster Center.

Construction will begin soon on a much-needed conference room in the building. A wall will be built around a small office area to form an enclosure and this will allow clients who are meeting with staff to have privacy.

The many programs provided by the staff include parenting classes, Parent Project, COPE (Teens Coping with Conflict), Bright Beginnings, a fatherhood program, relationship enhancement classes, adult education/GED testing, an after-school tutorial program, and job readiness training.

Lobby of the Family Support Center decorated with a Mardi Gras tree - Photo by Marc Parker

The center in Prattville was patterned after the Alfred Saliba Family Resource Center in Dothan (which was the first resource center in the state). This social services agency that “helps families help themselves” was established in 1994 by then Dothan Mayor Alfred Saliba.

The first center director, Susan Cranfield, was literally placed into the empty building with no files or furniture, and was asked by State Representative Mac Gipson and Mayor Jim Byard Jr. (then the President of the City Council) to establish the Autauga County Family Support Center.

Cranfield succeeded in creating an effective organization, establishing family programs, tutoring services, parenting classes, employment training, and mental health programs.

Four years ago after Cranfield’s retirement, her successor, Darrue S. Fank, continued in sharing her mission of improving the quality of life for all children and families in the community.

“Our adult education classes are what drives this train,” said Fank. “Especially in this economy, people without a high school degree are realizing that they need their GED (General Educational Development) to get a job.”

The center offers a Job Readiness program in collaboration with the Department of Human Resources. The four-week session includes resume writing, interviewing, dress-for-success, as well as GED and computer classes. GED testing is done on site at the Family Center in a classroom every other Saturday.

Online GED classes are also available for the convenience of those who have children or transportation issues, so there really is not an excuse for anyone not to complete a high school equivalency test if they wish to do so.

Classroom at the Family Support Center - Photo by Marc Parker

Parenting programs, such as Bright Beginnings, deal with the issue of teen pregnancy.

COPE is an anger management class for young people who end up on the wrong side of the law. In these classes, they are taught how to react in a positive manner toward peers, teachers, and parents rather than negatively or in a violent manner.

“We go every week to juvenile court,” Fank said. “The judge usually mandates that the parents come to our parent project because it teaches them how to gain back control over their kids.”

There are no counselors at the Family Support Center; most of the employees are qualified social workers. But, all are willing and able to help with any type of situation and with anyone who walks through their front door.

“If we can’t help, then we refer them to the appropriate agency,” continued Fank. “And, of course, if we suspect child abuse, it is mandated that we refer them to Child Protect Services.”

The center’s programs are funded through grants by the Children’s Trust Fund of Alabama. These state dollars are intended to provide annual funding of community-based prevention programs throughout Alabama. With this money, they are able to offer these vital classes and educational programs to attempt to prevent abuse and neglect from occurring in families, and to actually improve the quality of life of children and families.

The experienced, compassionate staff at the Family Support Center can help the pregnant teen who lacks skills in caring for an infant; a young single father who cannot cope with a job and taking care of a child at the same time; individuals who desperately need life skills to aid in job hunting or must have a GED in order to find employment, or the young person who lashes out in anger at a fellow student or teacher.

The center is located on 113 W. Main Street in Prattville. For information on any of the programs, please call (334) 361-4703, or go to

Hours of operation at the center are Monday-Thursday 8:00-5:00, closed on Fridays and weekends.

Article by Melissa Parker

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