WASHINGTON AND HOLMES COUNTIES – Education, prevention and intervention are the goals of the Fresh Start Coalition of Washington County.

The program was founded in 2004 by Thetch "Seth" McKinnie who had struggled with addiction for more than 30 years. McKinnie however, was passionate about preventing others, especially youth, from being trapped in the vicious cycle of substance abuse. It was while sitting in a jail cell that McKinnie was given the name "Fresh Start," a name that went on to create the coalition. McKinnie served as president until his passing in 2016.

What began as an anti-drug coalition has morphed into a coalition to help find resources for things such as child care, mental health counseling, drug rehab, and employability skills. The coalition also holds special events geared toward prevention, such as track meets, chess clubs and water activities.

Current President Reverend Thomas Smith says the program has helped to feed families and help in any way they could.

"In the course of the last 15 years we have helped put food on tables of families in need," said Thomas. "We have assisted those who needed it. We do everything we can to help those in need."

The coalition has a working relationship with the TJ Rouhlac Enrichment Center where they work with youth involved in the "Degree Seeker" program. Since the programs inception, there have been 27 enrolled; out of those, nine have received degrees thus far. One of those success stories is that of Smith’s son, Seaborn. Smith received his degree and went on to join the U.S. Army where he is a Second Lieutenant.

Historian Jaunita Finney says one of their goals in assisting the community is to be better.

"We are here to assist the community to be a better community," said Finney. "When we work together as a community, there is no end to what we can accomplish."

Finney also says they help other community-based organizations.

"When the Enrichment Center needed help opening the gym, we helped to raise funds for insurance so they could open it," said Finney. "Because that is a valuable resource for our children, we will continue to support."

The coalition is also a registered third party voter registrar. You can find them at various events in the Tri-County area registering people to vote in Washington, Holmes and Jackson counties. While Fresh Start works primarily with Washington County, no matter where you come from you will not be turned away.

The 501c(3) coalition is funded mostly out of the pockets of board members with the help of private donations. In order for the activities and resources to continue on, the coalition is in need of more community support.

The donations would cover things such as, sports equipment, shirts, food, gas and other needs. In an effort to live by the adage, "It takes a village" Board Member Alfred Finney says we must first be united.

"It takes a village to raise a child," said Finney. "We have to work in unity as a whole community to continue to assist our youth to do and be better."

If you would like to make a donation, volunteer or just find out more information go online to https://fresh-start-coalition.site123.me/ or call 850-638-7884.