This is "a happy, happy day, (and) thank you all for everything," Lou Kirkman said as she triumphantly burned a mortgage April 19. "That was fun, wasn't it?"

The note-burning party at The Mill at Crown Gardens marked paying off a $225,000 mortgage on the Family Support Council's building on Waring Road and the Oak Haven Second Chance Home for teenage mothers five years ahead of schedule, said Kirkman, in her third year as Family Support Council board president. "On March 1, it was paid off in full, only 18 months after" a fundraising committee had been established to secure donations.

By paying off the mortgage, "funds we would have used for that will be shifted to direct services so we can serve even more people in the community, (so) today is truly a great day," said Sandee Hooper, who led the fundraising committee. Despite the hurdles erected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Family Support Council still served nearly 12,000 individuals in 2020, because "so many needs had to be met, (so) we couldn't stop serving."

"Does it surprise me we served that many? No, because our staff goes above and beyond," said Hooper, a Family Support Council board member. "Does it surprise me we were able to" pay off the mortgage five years ahead of schedule? "No, because I've lived here my whole life, and I know when things get tough, Dalton (responds). Everyone here shares our mission, that all children are to be valued and live in a safe and healthy community."

"Once we got rolling (with fundraising), we couldn't turn back," she added. "It was 'Go.'"

Those served by the Family Support Council, a nonprofit family resource organization, can feel the investment in them by so many in the community, said Holly Rice, executive director. That's especially critical for the teen mothers at Oak Haven, who need to know they're "not alone on this journey."

The mortgage burning was "the second-most exciting day" in Rice's 20 years at the Family Support Council, behind only the July day two decades ago when Oak Haven opened its doors, she said.

"I had so much enthusiasm and hope (because of) the opportunities for teen moms and their kids, (and during the past 20 years) we have made am amazing difference in the lives of teens and kids."

"We have served 188 girls and 165 kids, and our focus is on education," Rice said. "We tell our girls, 'If you get your education, you can still make a wonderful life for you and your child, so there is hope.'"

"We've graduated 135 from high school, and 80 went on to college, which is phenomenal," she said. "Family planning is another focus, (so) we tell them to wait to have that second child" until they're more mature and financially secure.

"In this community, 23% of teen mothers" are pregnant again within two years, but "we've never had a second pregnancy" within two years among those at Oak Haven, she said. "That is pretty good."

"These girls are wonderful and kind in a day and age when kindness had been devalued," she said. "They recognize the opportunity (Oak Haven is) to have a better future for themselves and their children."

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