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Students invited to Florida A&M football practice by head Rattler himself

A lucky group of students in a unique Gadsden County family social program recently got a VIP Rattler experience at a Florida A&M University football practice session. 

The Rattlers’ head football coach – Gadsden born-and-bred Willie Simmons – personally invited local Restoring Families students to catch the college gridiron action up-close-and-personal at an evening practice under stadium lights at the “highest of seven hills” – Florida A&M University. Students and “Restoring Families” officials watched as the Rattlers executed drills, faced off in practice runs and more; they even got a chance to chat with Coach Simmons himself, who invited the youngsters to attend Florida A&M’s next home football game. 

Local Restoring Families students have enjoyed a wave of success and fun recently, beginning earlier this year with the graduation of 75 students from the pilot program; then, just a few weeks ago, the group was treated to a day of fun and learning at Sea World, Orlando.
Restoring Families is a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice grant-funded pilot program aimed at preventing crime, healing broken and troubled families and rebuilding communities in Gadsden County, according to a spokesperson with the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the local initiative. Major Robert Barkley heads up the innovative program, which is now in its second year – serving youth at James A. Shanks Middle and Stewart Street Elementary schools. 

According to Department of Juvenile Justice officials, Restoring Families accomplishes its community-building goals in part by offering a variety of activities and resources designed to help keep the at-risk adolescents targeted by the program on the straight and narrow, thereby helping to rehabilitate troubled families and rebuild fractured communities. Program services include counseling, mentoring, educational assistance, transportation, social support groups, parental visitation and more.

Restoring Families is a bold, ambitious and – most importantly – effective initiative “set forth to help reunite broken families,” giving them the support they need as they embark on a more positive path forward and equipping them with the tools they’ll need to succeed via mentoring and other means, Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young said earlier this year following a Restoring Families graduation ceremony. 

Special to The Herald