Log in Newsletter

A Special Mission | By Cindy Hawkins

He’s no longer hunkered down in the Green Zone of Baghdad, but Dr. Jerry Powell is still serving the men and women in uniform – this time from a much safer location in Haymount.

There, tucked on a side street, next to the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, is the Fayetteville Family Life Center. Many folks in Fayetteville have probably passed the unassuming brick house without realizing that it is a counseling center with 18 therapists on staff, three satellite offices and all serving men, women, children and families, military and civilian.

Powell is the center’s new director. He is a licensed counselor, retired Army colonel and ordained minister, so his move to faith-based counseling seems to be a perfect fit. But Powell is quick to correct one of the common misconceptions some people have about faith-based counseling – the goal is not to change anyone’s faith, he says, but to treat people who come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The Texas-born Powell joined the Army after spending 18 years as a pastor in Kansas City. He was 35 when he signed up to serve as a military chaplain and 48 when he decided to go through Airborne School.

“You can’t be at Fort Bragg and not be Airborne,” he says.

He’s a newcomer to the center but has been a part of the Fort Bragg community for almost 10 years. He served as a chaplain at the Watters Centers for Family Life. And in 2005, the Army sent him to Iraq.

Powell looks back on those days and describes them as “fascinating.” Called upon to work with the newly-established Iraqi government to help write a constitution, who could argue that his work was anything less?

Creating a constitution

“It was not just another job,” he says, as he explains how he assisted Iraqis on matters such as freedom of religion and women and children’s issues.

Powell said their intense focus on the task of creating the constitution in the midst of war intrigued him. He remembers one Iraqi woman who said, “Security is not our main concern; the constitution is our central focus – we must get our government established correctly.”

“They didn’t have the historical background our founding fathers had,” Powell said, “and they were given six months to write it.”

He says the Iraqis appreciated the guidance he and others provided. “I never met an Iraqi who was disappointed with the Americans being there. They were all so grateful that we had deposed Saddam Hussein.”

A new role

When Powell retired from the Army in 2007, after 20 years of service, he began working with the Fayetteville Family Life Center. A licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor, he specializes in working with members of the military and their families.

With so many families in the Fayetteville area experiencing the emotional effects of deployment, Powell says, the need for services is evident.

“The true struggle of faith during combat is that soldiers see chaos when they expect order from God. They get a clear concept of what evil is,” he says. “Everyone who’s been in direct combat comes back different. Their priorities change, they have a new perspective on what’s valuable, what’s truly important.”

When soldiers return from deployment, they may have trouble readjusting to the daily grind, and the difficulties they face affect not only the soldiers but also their loved ones. The counselor’s job is to help individuals and families work through those differences.

Faith-based counseling

Counselors often work to integrate a client’s religious beliefs into the process. Among the 18 therapists on staff, there is ample experience in dealing with a wide variety of faiths and backgrounds. In fact, the center employs two of only six Spanish-speaking marriage and family therapists in North Carolina.

Along with incorporating faith into the counseling process, the center believes in focusing on the family.

“If the child is having problems, the whole family is affected,” Powell says. “The problems usually show up in school, through behavior or discipline concerns. Family-based counseling is not a ‘fix my kid’ mentality; it’s a team approach.

“The pressure on parents now is phenomenal,” he says. “The cultural expectations – let them be free or direct their lives – pulls parents in conflicting directions.”

The center hopes to relieve some of the parenting pressures through “Parenting with Love and Logic,” a community outreach program with classes offered at the center. The center also provides workshops for parents who are going through divorce. Through these efforts, the center aims to prevent child abuse and neglect in the community.

New addition

Fayetteville Family Life Center is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday. In addition to the main office on Highland Avenue, the center manages three additional locations. Snyder Memorial Baptist Church provided the facility for the newest location, The Westmont Center, and The Junior League provided a $50,000 grant to furnish it and provide office equipment and supplies. The center relies on such donations.

Many of its clients are underinsured or uninsured, and fees are based on income and do not cover the cost of operations.

As a non-profit agency, the center relies on support from the United Way, the fundraising efforts of the board of directors and local congregations. The community’s generosity allows the center to provide many free counseling hours to its clients.

The Fayetteville Family Life Center

is located at 114 Highland Avenue. For more information, call 910.484.0176. For a list of satellite offices visit our Web site.