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JAMS Foundation

Children and Family Programs at Kennesaw State University: Helping Families Get the Tools they Need to Reduce the Risk of Youth Gang Involvement

The JAMS Foundation is a nonprofit founded by JAMS to have lasting and substantial impact on dispute resolution worldwide. The Foundation provides financial assistance for conflict resolution initiatives with national and international impact in addition to sharing its dispute resolution experience and expertise for the benefit of the public interest.

The Foundation is proud to support Conflict Resolution Education for Youth at Risk of Gang Involvement with a $60,000 two-year grant. This project and the larger Children and Family Programs at Kennesaw State University use an interdisciplinary model to address community conflict while also providing families with important tools to foster healthy relationships.

We asked Allison C. Garefino, Clinical Director of the Children and Family Programs, a few questions to highlight the incredible work being accomplished by this project.

Allison C. Garefino, Clinical Director of the Children and Family Programs

Can you tell us more about Conflict Resolution Education for Youth at Risk of Gang Involvement project and its goals?

Children and Family Programs (@childrenKSU created this project with a vision to disseminate evidence-based treatment of both diagnosed and undiagnosed childhood behavioral challenges for families in need. The primary objective of this program is to provide training in parenting strategies and social skills in order to equip families with preventative tools to reduce the risk of youth gang involvement. All of our programs are taught by a trusted community member using a teacher trainer model.

This program is based out of Cobb County, Georgia, and our efforts remain focused on the geographic area that experiences the highest rates of gang activity and instances of sex trafficking. Many teachers, administrators, social workers, nurses, psychologists, and parent advocates in this area have the same goal of addressing these community needs. One of our top priorities is to align all of these systems in order to make a comprehensive and sustainable change in Cobb County and beyond. We know that we are able to accomplish more when we are all working together.

We have witnessed first-hand the mental health disparity experienced by children and parents living in underserved schools. Separation from loved ones and the loss of identity, culture and a sense of belonging all exacerbate the challenges that many of these families face on a regular basis. We hope that, through the implementation of these evidence-based strategies, we can help families maintain positive relationships within their families and with trusted adults at school, to build community, and to cultivate a sense of belonging.


How is the grant from JAMS helping you achieve these goals?

Before receiving JAMS funding, I was a part-time assistant professor doing anything that I could to introduce programs like this one to the surrounding school districts. The forward-thinking administrators at Norton Park Elementary (the location of our pilot program) represented one of two schools that responded to my offer, but we lacked sufficient funds to get the program off the ground. With help from this grant, so many doors have been opened, and the community in Cobb County has been served in incredible ways.

We’ve been able to partner with Kennesaw State University and opportunities for this work to extend beyond Norton Park Elementary have come as a result of grant support. We’ve also been able to invite undergraduate and graduate interns, research assistants and other students into our effort, allowing us to branch out into even more communities.

Increased funding has also led to an ability to host focus groups with parents at the end of our parenting strategy sessions to further inform our efforts. These focus groups allow us to more accurately assess community needs, and they empower parents to guide our sessions and to provide feedback. Focus groups reveal real-life parent concerns associated with experiences of separation and loss. Because these sessions have been so valuable, decisionmakers at Norton Elementary have chosen to implement similar gatherings within the broader community of South Cobb schools.


What types of success stories can you share?

On top of the successes that we’ve already discussed, we’ve observed that conflict in the homes of the families that we work with has decreased. One parent even talked about how they are using the training in their workplace with challenging professional relationships! I want to take a moment to share from one of our parent’s experiences. Their real names have been excluded to protect their identities.

Mary (mother) and her son, Gabriel’s Story

While sharing during one of our parent groups, Mary became emotional and had to leave the room. She asked Dr. Garefino (group facilitator) to join her in the hallway while she composed herself. She explained to Dr. Garefino that her son, Gabriel, was born with a birth defect and often spoke very disparagingly about himself at home, and rarely spoke at school. Mary went on to say that since she started using the tools to support relationships, acceptance, and self-esteem building behavior that she learned through the program, she has seen a real change in her son. He is less critical and self-conscious, and she knows that he is participating more at school and in the Social Skills class. She confidently shared her story of success with the group. By the end of her story, nearly all of the parents were either praising her efforts, nodding in agreement, or giving her a hug.

Also, here is a testimonial from one of our volunteer staff members. He came to this program with prior counselor training and helped us translate material into Spanish while also providing interpretation during many of our parent classes.

 “There’s something heartwarming and humbling about meeting a complete stranger and within a few hours earning their trust and attention and their confidence with arguably their most precious possession, their child. There’s no better feeling than knowing that what you’re doing is making an immediate change in someone’s life. That value provided to the community, that uplifting feeling, and the vast applicability of the knowledge are the roots of why I love the work I do with CFP.”


What has been the program’s biggest accomplishment with providing services and resources for families and their children?

One of the biggest accomplishments is arguably the incorporation of these concepts into the larger goals of Norton Park Elementary and the surrounding feeder schools. A champion of this program and an ESL educator at Norton Park, Carrie Madden has spearheaded the spread of these concepts, and has served as an invaluable bridge between programming for kids and parents. Our combined work now extends to the broader South Cobb community, inviting parents from the surrounding schools to parent engagement activities. The topic of each meeting is driven by the needs of the community while incorporating the effective strategies of our programs.


What is the most important thing that families should consider when they see their child is facing conflict?

One of the most important things that parents need to know if they are concerned about their child is that there are resources at the schoolhouse right now that are free and available. Part of our work is to educate parents about what’s out there. Some common resources include (but are not limited to):

  1. Educational Support and Career Counseling
  2. Community Service Opportunities
  3. Information about Civic Engagement and Rights
  4. Restorative Justice Practices
  5. Peer Mentorship Opportunities

Many of our families, regardless of their own background, are uninformed about the educational system. Empowering adults with the information about their rights and about the resources available is an essential part of our mission. 


This page is for general information purposes. JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness. Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More

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