Families First for Mississippi Field Educator Debbie Johnson serves a lunch with information about the agency to United Furniture Industries employee Aakeem Rush at a midday cookout at the furniture manufacturer’s Amory location last week. Rush is pursuing a college degree while he works at United Furniture Industries.

AMORY – United Furniture Industries kicked off a partnership with Families First of Mississippi Aug. 26 with a cookout for the furniture manufacturer’s employees. Families First is a nonprofit organization that has worked to strengthen families statewide for more than 20 years.

“It was our first event. Word has been slow getting out. We’re trying to get exposure and let the employees know of what we have to offer,” said FFFM Regional Coordinator Michael Farrar.

Families First offers a number of services to improve literacy and life skills, education and job preparedness for both parents and youth. Families First programming is provided by a partnership between the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

“We know Families First and its initiatives benefit the families they touch and the communities where our families live and work. Whether Families First offers connections to English-as-a-second-language classes, recommends the right next step in education through community colleges or enhances jobs skills through conflict resolution workshops, FFFM helps families build better, brighter futures,” said UFI President Larry George said in a press release. “Our company is familiar with Families First and its good works. We are proud to support and partner with Families First, which runs its regional operations from offices at our Amory facilities.”

UFI employee Tom Ehler, who is responsible for two different departments at UFI, is an enthusiastic Families First supporter.

“I push it 100 percent. I’m finishing up on my first 10-hour course, and I intend to sign up for another,” he said. “My wife and I attend the classes. It not only benefits me personally but also helps me to be a better boss.”

Families First of North Mississippi Executive Director Christi Webb was instrumental in establishing the partnership between her organization and United Furniture Industries.

“We have always partnered with other social service agencies, schools and churches and we are so pleased with the way this program at UFI will serve as a model for other companies in North Mississippi who want to bring our services to their communities,” she said in a press release.

According to Webb, Families First is targeting the furniture industry since it is the area’s largest employer.

“We’re not only helping people get ready for the workforce but to help them to keep the jobs they get,” she said. “United Furniture Industries was the best fit for developing this model, which we hope to expand to other manufacturers.”

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