Walker County DHR celebrates completion of community project

By NICOLE SMITH
Daily Mountain Eagle
nicole.smith@mountaineagle.com
Posted 7/17/21

Walker County's Department of Human Resources office has a newly renovated space that is providing some comfort to employees and children who need services.

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Walker County DHR celebrates completion of community project

Posted

Walker County's Department of Human Resources office has a newly renovated space that is providing some comfort to employees and children who need services.

The county DHR office along Highway 78 opened in the late 1970s, according to Ginger McGaughy, its new director. No updates or renovation has occurred at the site since, with the exception of needed repairs. Now, a fully remodeled, modernized room has created a recognizable shift in mentality at the DHR office.

It all started when Tina Aaron and Anthony Sellers of Youth Advocate Programs (YAP)-Jasper had the vision to create an inviting space in the building. A fund was soon created with the Walker Area Community Foundation to house donations for the project.

Aaron attended a Chamber of Commerce of Walker County meeting and told those in attendance about the potential project, and she was blown away by the response. 

"At that meeting, people were literally opening their wallets and contributing," she said. "We got $2,000 that day, and it just rolled so fast."

Other community members, churches, businesses and organizations began to contribute, and over $15,000 was ultimately invested in the space.

Shawn Morgan of Saragossa Baptist Church did the majority of renovation work in the room, such as painting and floor installation, while Aaron, Sellers and volunteer Karla West focused on decorating.

Sellers, the new director of YAP-Jasper, has created a number of calming camps in classrooms across Walker County, which he replicated in the DHR space. The calm camps are designed with an outdoors theme and feature a tent, pillows, stuffed animals, and sensory activities for children.

An age-appropriate space for older children was also designed by Sellers in the new room and has video games, a sleeper sofa, and books.

Both Sellers and Aaron said the calm camp at DHR will be a valuable asset for children coming onto service, giving them an inviting area to be during a difficult time of transition.

A fully stocked refrigerator is also in the room, along with snacks and an inviting coffee station for employees.

"The whole purpose was to give the kids a good, healthy distraction when they have to wait on a placement and to give the workers a wonderful space," Aaron said. "It's a labor of love."

Part of the project also includes a side room where children can go to get items they may need before going into foster care. Walker County DHR is now partnering with Comfort Cases, a nonprofit in Maryland that sends backpacks to organizations that are each filled with a pair of pajamas, a blanket, a stuffed animal, activities and toiletry items.

The backpacks are free, and Walker County DHR can receive up to 50 each month if needed.  

McGaughy explained that having grab-and-go backpacks would not be possible without the support of Comfort Cases and community donors.

"The state budget doesn't allow for us to buy any kind of inventory and stock things," she said. "When we purchase things, it has to be connected to a case number and it has to be specifically for that child. In order to go and buy stuff in preparation for kids coming in, our hands are tied. We can't do that."

McGaughy said the outpouring of love from the community to make all the new changes possible is a blessing.

"I cannot believe how fast it came together and how the community responded so quickly. It has just been mind-blowing," she said. "It's been a huge morale boost for our workers, seeing that people in the community really care about them and their well-being while they're at work."

McGaughy said one of her goals is to have a food pantry at Walker County DHR so that families can be assisted. 

"I think it's the beginning of many changes that we'll get to see around here to make our dark and dreary place a little happier," she said.

A ribbon-cutting was held for the new room on Tuesday, and employees were cheerful as they filtered in and out of the room and enjoyed a light breakfast. 

"I think one of the biggest things is the life that this little project brought into this group of people," Sellers said.

Aaron and Sellers recently witnessed a boy come to DHR for services and were thrilled with his response to the renovated room.

"He came in the room and was like, 'Wow, this is so cool,'" Sellers recalled. "It was really, really refreshing to see."