FORYSTH COUNTY -- Forsyth County residents may have in their near future a drug education and awareness resource center, thanks to a federal grant.
The Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council was awarded a $125,000 grant for the next five years from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts.
Spearheaded by Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills (District 4), the council’s vision is to use grant funding to establish a resource center.
“A place where parents can be able to come to for help and for hope and for healing,” Mills said. “We felt like there’s not been a centralized place they can go to. So that’s what we’re hoping. We can have a person there that can answer questions or to point [parents or kids] in the direction of finding answers to their questions.
“To give them hope in desperate situations.”
Mills has also been at the forefront of the county’s drug summits in recent years and said both are connected.
“Before … we didn’t really talk about drugs in the community, and we didn’t have all these programs, and now Sheriff [Duane] Piper has started these programs,” she said. “And now if we have this place, then all of a sudden we have a person who can say your child is this? They can go to TIP or to CHAMPS. All of a sudden we have a person who can tell them about all of these avenues.”
Community members who helped the council submit the grant included Ruth Goode of United Way of Forsyth County, Nancy Smallwood of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, Lindsay Simpson of Forsyth County Schools and Niki Colella of Forsyth County Community Connection.
This grant was not always available. In 2014, a Cumming woman was sentenced to more than a year in prison for fraudulently obtaining the funding to pay for personal expenses.
Jessica Regas, 62, first applied for the grant in 2004 for the creation of the Drug Free Forsyth Coalition.
Investigators were first alerted she may have misused the funds in fall 2013, when Mills began looking into the possibility of beginning a drug free coalition for the county.
In her research, she discovered Forsyth County was not eligible for the grant because it had already been awarded to the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation under the direction of Regas and her husband.
Through the foundation, Regas and her husband were supposed to oversee the Drug Free Forsyth Coalition by meeting specific regulations required by the SAMHSA grant.
According to a plea document, Regas received $100,000 a year from 2004 to 2008 and around $125,000 a year from 2009 to 2013. In 2011, the Georgia Martial Arts Foundation ceased to exist, but Regas continued to receive federal funding.
Now, Mills said, the funding will be put to the actual use of helping children and their parents find proper avenues for substance abuse.
“Our drug court is wonderful, but you have to have a felony to get in it,” Mills said. “I have these mothers call me, but I’m not qualified. Now I can say go there. And then all of a sudden we can give them jobs to go, and then we can form programs, and then we can print materials and have fundraisers.”
She said the council will look into forming a nonprofit.
“We will become all that the community needs us to be. We just don’t know what that means yet,” she said. “However big that might be, we can become that for the community.”