Julie Baumgardner Says It All Boils Down To The Home

Friday, March 21, 2014 - by Hollie Webb

President and CEO of First Things First Julie Baumgardner told the Chattanooga Civitan Club, "It all boils down to the family, to what's happening at home." The organization, founded in 1997, was started as an effort to strengthen families in the area when it was discovered that the divorce rate in Chattanooga at the time was 50 percent higher than the national average.

Since that time, the rate of divorce filings has decreased 29 percent and the rate of divorce has decreased 26 percent.

The most dramatic change has been the rate of out of wedlock births, which has decreased 63 percent.

President Baumgardner emphasized that working to build strong families does not just help individuals; it helps the entire community. A person with an out-of-wedlock child and with no high school diploma has an 83 percent chance of being in poverty. Children with absent fathers are also exponentially more likely to have behavioral issues or even end up in jail.

First Things First works to change this through educating people, reaching over 14,000 people every year through their programs and classes. The classes range in topics from marriage, to parenting, to healthy dating relationships. She said, "What we try and do is give the people the information they need to make good decisions."

One of their programs, called Work Smart Live Well, teaches often overlooked job skills such as resume-writing, workplace attire, and relating to coworkers. These "soft skills" can make or break a job interview no matter what else someone is qualified to do. Within the last year, this program helped place 164 unemployed people into full or part-time jobs.

Another program focuses on fathers who have gone to jail. She said upon being released from jail, many men have child support payments to make. If they get behind on these payments, they lose their driver's license. They can also end up back in jail.

 To break this cycle, First Things First worked with the court system to develop an alternative. In the program, fathers are taught how to improve their relationships with their children and what it means to be an involved father. Studies show that a high percentage of fathers to children born out of wedlock will walk out of the child's life within a few years. First Things First seeks to change this.

At this point in time, 93 men have graduated from this class and only three have returned to jail. Based on the average cost per year of keeping an inmate in jail, this has saved the taxpayers approximately $2,677,120. This program has also resulted in 55 job placements.

Yet another focus of First Things First is working with high school students, reaching over 4,000 students in the area each year. Ms. Baumgardner said the emphasis here is teaching what it means to be in a healthy relationship. She said, "Healthy relationships don't hurt you." She said many young people she had worked with had the mindset that "a bad relationship is better than no relationship."

In an effort to reach out to even more people, First Things First has also began offering free online classes on its website, firstthingsfirst.org.



John Shearer: Barbara Bush Visited Chattanooga At Least 6 Times

As Americans are saying goodbye and paying their respects to former First Lady Barbara Bush following her death  on Tuesday , her face has been shown numerous times on television and in newspapers.   For the last three decades or so, she was a pretty familiar face in Chattanooga as well.   A look at the files in the local history section of the Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Alton Park Street Fest & Clean Up Set Up Saturday

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and District 7 Councilman Erskine Oglesby are teaming up with multiple city of Chattanooga departments for the inaugural Alton Park Street Fest & Clean Up on Saturday.  “The purpose of this event is to empower District 7 constituents and the surrounding communities to take part in the revitalization of their neighborhood,” said Councilman ... (click for more)

Robert Gillisse Was Pilot Killed In Plane Crash At Collegedale Airport

The pilot who was killed in a plane crash on the runway of the Collegedale Airport on Friday evening has been identified as Robert Gillisse, 62, of Ooltewah . Charles Swain, who is the director of the airport, said the plane was a total loss. It was a single-occupant plane. He said the plane was taking off when it crashed. He said Mr. Gillisse frequently had flown out of ... (click for more)

East Ridge To Build Open-Air Pavilion Near City Hall

East Ridge plans to construct an open-air pavilion that will include restrooms and a concession area near City Hall and the old McBrien School.  It will be part of a Town Center for East Ridge at the Tombras Avenue property. The city is also applying for a $500,000 grant to help convert Pioneer Park into a refurbished park with a splash pad. The firm of Hefferlin and ... (click for more)

A Tribute For My Brother – Sgt. Jonathan Gardner, U.S. Army

Seven years ago today, my family and I found out that my brother, Sgt. Jonathan D. Gardner, was seriously injured by a roadside bomb, (explosively formed penetrator - EFP), while on a mission in Kuwait. The EFP went through the bottom of his seat and put a softball size hole in his upper thigh. The doctors said that if the bomb had entered the Humvee an inch to the right, he ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

All of us who marvel at the sound of bagpipes at a funeral realize the majesty that people like piper Scottie Maclellan can lend to any “homecoming” and for years there has been a wonderful tale out of Nova Scotia that leads this week’s parade of The  Saturday  Funnies. Mind you, I do not write these stories, as many who have followed man’s laughter down through the ... (click for more)