FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — For many kids, being prepared for school entails getting new notebooks, packing or paying for a lunch and seeing if your friends are in your class.
But for many children, school isn’t their first priority when they need food, clothing and support.
That’s where Forsyth County Schools Social Worker Amy Gamez comes in.
Her job is to advocate within the home, school and community in ways that support all students to achieve educational success.
“We work with schools, students and families to eliminate barriers to successful learning,” Gamez said. “Whether it’s they don’t have a bed to sleep on or food at home, or maybe they have mental health issues and they need counseling. They’re struggling academically because their needs aren’t met.”
She gets involved and figures out how to meet students’ needs so they can thrive in the classroom. Situations she deals with range from moving a donated bed to a family, giving a voucher to a child who needs clothes because but there are no items in the schools’ pantry that fit him, setting up counseling for families and organizing the donation of hundreds of snacks.
These types of scenarios come easy to Gamez who has been interested in social work and first pursued it in 2002. She has worked at a foster care agency, been a mental health support provider and worked at a therapeutic boarding school.
For more than 11 years she’s been in her current role as the social worker for the cluster of schools that include Cumming Elementary School, Otwell Middle School and Forsyth Central High School.
“I found my niche when I started doing this,” Gamez said. “It’s my passion and calling. I love what I do. It can be tough at times, but at the end of the day it’s been very rewarding over all.”
Her cluster of schools is unique, she said, because it serves many of the families in the county’s main shelters including Jesse’s House, Family Promise and the Boy’s Lodge.
She works with them to check in on students at school for problems like skipping school.
A lot of times, there are other reasons as to what’s going on, and it is Gamez’s job to find out what they are and find a resource that will help them.
“If we have kids who are skipping school or having a hard time, I try to meet with them to see what’s wrong,” Gamez said. “We had a kid skipping last week who was leaving early to go to his job. We had to change his schedule.”
When Gamez tells people what her job is, they’re often surprised because they don’t realize there are kids with needs in the county.
“We have a lot of kids who are struggling and have those barriers,” Gamez said. “I’m working with a church for snacks at Cumming Elementary because we estimate about a fourth don’t get snacks.”
She works frequently with local churches, shelters, nonprofits, groups and businesses to get the resources she needs to better serve the students. She said the county is blessed and typically always steps up to help her.
“I want to make anything work that can help the kids,” Gamez said. “At the schools, everyone is more than willing and jump at the chance to help. Our community is so giving on all levels. They just want to help kids, so everybody pulls together to do that.”