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Honoring those who support the troops
Veteran counselors Paula Christian-Stallworth and Estel Shinholster - photo by Rachel Loyd

Each November, veterans and active military members nationwide are celebrated and honored.

However, the family members who play such a crucial role in the lives of these honorees can be overlooked. This year, Paula Christian-Stallworth, founder of Listening Ear Counseling Center and National Guard veteran Estel Shinholster are going out of their way to make sure that doesn't happen in this community.

LECC is holding a special event with workshops, guest speaker and luncheon to honor military families and address suicide in the military.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, they host "Mental and Emotional Wellness: from the Battlefield to the Homefront" 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Nancy Guinn Library, 864 Green Street SW, Conyers. It is open to the public and military family members are strongly encouraged to come. Lunch is provided; RSVP at (770) 929-1470 or

As of this past August, the Army had reported 211 deaths that were potentially suicides among active duty and reserve members. In light of these reports, Stallworth said she felt compelled to take immediate action.

"With the rate of suicide having increased in the military as it has, we will provide a brief workshop on Question Persuade and Respond to educate family members and bring them to suicide awareness and Survivors of Suicide for family & friends whose loved ones have committed suicide. There will also be a Remembering our Fallen Memorial where we will release balloons in memory of our loved ones at noon." Following the memorial will be lunch, a guest speaker, and entertainment.

"It's so important that family members and children, especially children, get the support they need. Children see their parents, and there might be fights going on because someone was never around, and the children are being affected," Shinholster said.

Stallworth has also seen firsthand the toll military life can take on families. Her husband of 21-plus years is a disabled Army veteran who served 27 years as a medic.

Two of her three sons are in the Air Force, with the second oldest recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. And her only brother served in Vietnam.

"When my brother returned from Vietnam, he was a wreck," Stallworth said. She wanted better for him, as well as for all families in similar situations. It was her experience and her work with military families as a counselor that led her to start the Listening Ear Counseling Center in 2007, where the motto is "Listening when others won't, hearing what others can't."

Stallworth's aim is to dispel the stigma people have of mental illnesses and of people seeking help. "We have veterans and veteran families who have come through our office for services. Sometimes people won't go to the VA or use the benefits that are afforded them through the military because it's on record," she said. "It's difficult if you're still active in the military to be considered for a promotion if there's a stigma of mental illness. So there are times when a client who is still serving, or has served, will prefer to pay out of pocket so they can disclose their true mental and emotional state without being labeled."

To that end, she has connected LECC with various groups in the community that support active members, veterans and their families. Care for the Troops is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mental health care of returning troops and their families.

In addition to her full-time duties at LECC, Stallworth is currently working on a series of books to provide basic mental and emotional health awareness and education to the community.

For more information, contact (770) 929-1470 or or go to 343 Salem Gate Drive, SE, Suite 203. Conyers.