There aren’t many places Haley DeNoon hasn’t been in Montgomery County. That’s her goal.
“I want to be at the grocery store, and they say ‘Hey, that’s the lady that taught me [about] bullying.”
Haley DeNoon is the field trainer for Families First. Families First for Mississippi is a nonprofit organization, and its services are delivered jointly by two community organizations: The Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC) and the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC). The united efforts of both organizations strengthen families of all backgrounds and life circumstances by providing support and services - from parenting classes, educational opportunities, positive youth development, literacy assistance, and workforce and job readiness.
Families First for Mississippi offers these services through seminars, workshops, classes and presentations held in schools, community centers, churches, and state agency offices. Families First for Mississippi works diligently to impact lives and create hopeful futures for all Mississippians positively.
Families First for Mississippi’s core services stimulate employment through job readiness, support family financial stability, promote literacy, increase graduation rates, support positive youth development, and promote parenting skills development.
“I can meet a person anywhere,” she said. “I can meet them at McDonald’s, the library. I can meet them wherever they are.”
“There are two services; there’s the Mississippi Community Education Center in Jackson and the Resource Center of North Mississippi in Tupelo. The Resource Center covers the north half of the state and the Community Education Center covers the Southern half of the state.”
DeNoon said there are five pillars that Families First covers: parenting, youth development, literacy, workforce development, and education. She said the organization has been around for 20 years in some capacity but has exploded in the two or three years.
“It’s in all 82 counties, but there’s not a center in every county,” DeNoon said. “Some centers cover like four to ten counties. We have a center in Greenwood, and we cover Montgomery, Holmes, Carroll, and Leflore counties.”
She said they hold programs, seminars, workshops, and classes and they can be held at churches, schools, agency offices and all of their services are free. From parenting classes, budgeting, money management, professional development and even a second chance at getting a high school diploma, Families First offers a little of everything.
“If we can’t help you, we can direct you to an agency which can,” DeNoon said. She said Families First builds partnerships with other agencies as well. “We connect the dots.”
DeNoon, a native of Duck Hill and a graduate of Kirk Academy in Grenada, has been the field trainer in Montgomery for a year and a half. She said it was a little hard breaking into the community at first and telling people what all Families First offers. But, after people realized the programs are not only beneficial but free, they want to know more. She said her goal is to build relationships within the community so people will feel comfortable talking to her.
“It’s about creating relationships and establishing those relationships,” she said. “A stranger isn’t going to feel comfortable opening up to someone they don’t know,” DeNoon added that her goal is to work at getting out into the community as much as she can to become a recognizable face.
So, no matter where she is in Montgomery County, people know that she has their best interest at heart and she wants to help them.
Strong in her faith, she also holds faith-based events. DeNoon said she holds chapel at Winona Christian and Carroll Academy and used the Bible to connect it to life skills, like how the Bible says to treat people.
“Other agencies don’t like that, but I like the fact that Families First allows us to do it because it’s a big part of my life,” she said.
“We promote positive youth development within Mississippi,” DeNoon said.
She goes into the elementary school and speaks with children about bullying, peer pressure and making healthy choices.
“We also partner with other agencies to promote making healthy choices,” she said.
“We partner with agencies like the Mississippi Highway Patrol. We went to the high school and talked to students about the dangers of drinking and driving especially during prom,” DeNoon said.
She said she and a trooper with MHP promoted PROM-Please Return on Monday. She said she also did a program with middle schoolers about gratitude, and DeNoon taught them how to write thank you cards.
DeNoon said Families First offers a program where those who may have dropped out of high school have a second chance of obtaining their diploma.
“This is not the GED; this is an actual high school diploma,” DeNoon said.
The diploma is through the New Summit Learning Center and is accredited with the Mississippi Department of Education. DeNoon said the program is open to anyone over the age of 19 and who didn’t get past the ninth grade.
DeNoon said parenting is a big topic at Families First.
“We promote a healthy parental environment,” she said.
DeNoon said there are events held, like a father’s day cookout, to help break the ice and give parents a place where they can feel comfortable and open up.
“We want to be sure that parents are equipped with the things they need to raise a child,” she said. DeNoon said she also holds a Mother’s Day event where those who will attend will learn about potted plants and talk about the importance of being a role model to their children.
DeNoon also holds lunch and learns for students and for adults to teach them about life skills such as budgeting, credit, and how to pay bills. She said they also talk to young adults and older high school students about life skills. They discuss anger management, stress management, peer pressure, and other topics to help promote healthy relationships.
DeNoon said the organization even offers certification hours for foster parents.
Literacy is another important topic that Families First pushes. DeNoon said Families First participates in Book Drives held at the schools.
“We also have a lending library,” she said.
DeNoon said a lot of people might not have access to books and their center has a library where parents can check books out for their children.
Workforce and Job Readiness
Job readiness is also a big topic at Families First.
“We have pre-employment where we teach them how to do resumes, interview skills; we have a professional clothing closet for those who may not have anything to wear to an interview,” she said. “We also follow up with post-employment. We talk about being on time, how to manage your check, stress management.”
DeNoon said Families First doesn’t just stop once a person gets the job. She said they also do staff development where they talk about social media presence, how to handle situations on the job.
From the womb to the aging senior, Families First focuses on the family as a whole in every aspect.