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Fascinating people of Forsyth: School social worker helping the homeless
Gamez - photo by Micah Green

About this series

This article is the latest in an ongoing Sunday series spotlighting some of the fascinating people in Forsyth.

Previous articles

* Leading the charge for Sharon Springs

* County native enjoys serving the community

* Teaching far more than dance

* Fighting the stigma of addiction

* Learning to lead

* A homegrown lawmaker

FORSYTH COUNTY -- Amy Gamez knows, perhaps better than most, that it takes more than a teacher for a child to be successful in school. It takes the whole community.

Gamez’ work as a social worker in Forsyth County Schools brings the community — teachers, home life, organizations and resources — together for the sake of her students.

Some people may not realize the depth of a school social worker’s role. Someone who makes sure students aren’t suffering at home. Someone who finds them a meal when their family can’t afford dinner the night before. Someone who finds them a place to sleep when their parents get evicted after losing a job.

Beyond all that, Gamez has gone a step further in providing for her students.

She was one of the leading voices in bringing a branch of Family Promise, a nonprofit sustainability program that asks churches to play to host families suffering from homelessness while providing day care, work force development and financial advising to parents and children, to Forsyth.

Family Promise does not have enough churches signed on yet to start helping families, but Gamez will not stop until the vision that began almost two years ago is realized.

Question: So you’re first a school social worker for three schools? Tell me a little about what you do.

Answer: “I’m a school social worker at Cumming Elementary, Otwell Middle and Forsyth Central High School. I advocate within the home, school and community to help students, to empower and support them to be educationally successful.

“I work with counselors, administrators, teachers. We attend meetings, but we’re also in the community a lot … whether it’s helping families or working with agencies.”

Q: That’s a lot of behind the scenes, compared to teachers, it seems like, right?

A: “Yes, we get a lot of referrals from teachers and counselors. A lot of the time we’re trying to get food together for families or trying to get resources, trying to get their needs met so that when they come to school they can function in a classroom successfully.”

Q: Why is that work important?

A: “If you have a kid that’s sleeping on the floor or hasn’t had dinner the night before, I mean, how can we expect them to come to school and be successful in the classroom? So I do feel like it’s vital for us to be able to work to meet those needs … Whether it’s social, emotional. It could be basic needs.

“The biggest thing school social workers help with is helping kids find a bed. We have students who come to school and say, ‘I couldn’t sleep last night’ or ‘I sleep on the floor.’

“We have kids who come to school and say, ‘I didn’t eat last night.’ So we try to connect them with resources, and I’m so thankful to be living in the county we live in because I feel like we have such a huge support system.

“Thankfully, we have such a community that’s giving and caring, and so many agencies that are willing to help these families.”

Q: So then tell me about Family Promise, because you’re heavily involved with that, too.

A: “A year and a half ago, I had about five families that were staying in a hotel. Most of them were Forsyth County families that had lived in the county for many, many years but that had been displaced … and they had gotten in a situation where they were in a hotel.

“And my heart just broke because we would have these families of six to eight kids in one little hotel room, trying to get by in order to function and come to school. I was frustrated because there weren’t any options for families — like whole units, mother, father and kids — for them to go in Forsyth.

“So I was speaking with a friend in another county who said there’s this program called Family Promise … It’s an organization that is nationwide, and they are in multiple counties in Georgia.

“Like I said before, our community is amazing with resources, and I feel like the community has really come together and really wanted to make this work. We’ve had a lot of individuals who have worked very hard to make it work. We’re having meetings. Our next on is on January 21 at 7 p.m. at Christ the King.

“Part of what the program is, basically, the churches and the community come together and help families get back on their feet and help them be sustainable so they don’t continue to repeat the cycle of homelessness.

“We have an open house on Feb. 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. for the day center [at Freedom Tabernacle], which is the main building that they’ll be housed during the day … it will staff a director who will work with these families on a daily basis in order to get them resources and work on resumes, job skills so they can save money. The eight churches that are involved, we need 13 so families can go to the churches at night and stay throughout the community.”

Q: Is there a stigma with homelessness in a county like this that’s doing so well?

A: “We currently have 458 students that are registered as homeless. I do feel like there’s a stigma of ‘it’s not in our county.’

“But we still have multiple families that have not come from Atlanta or from bigger counties. A lot of these families are those that grew up in Forsyth and are just displaced.”

Q: What’s something surprising or fascinating about you, personally?

A: “I’m not from Forsyth, and my husband is from Venezuela. We came here about 13 years ago. And I think it really helps give me a perspective because I have family that’s out of state, and his family is out of country.

“So it really helps give us a perspective on how we can help families sometimes that come into this county and aren’t from around here.”