Tucker Middle School specialist recognized as Unsung Hero

Lori Hanford says she is always connecting people because “everybody deserves to shine.” Photo submitted by Lori Hanford.

Tucker, GA — Lori Hanford tells her students at Tucker Middle School to dream big, bringing in superstars like influencer Jessika the Prankster and All-American heavyweight boxer DaCarree “MacTruck” Scott to demonstrate how dedication and principles lead to success. 

Hanford is a behavior coach for DeKalb County Schools, running a program called Check and Connect, and she’s CEO and founder of Links Family Engagement. Her business centers on tending to social and emotional needs of students. 

“I’m always connecting,” said Hanford. “I’m linking people, places and things. I’m always linking people to resources because there’s room for everybody. Everybody needs to shine.”

Honored as an Unsung Hero on April 3 at the 1Powerhouse gala, she also volunteers with the Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation. 

By her side at the event was dear friend DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran Johnson. The pair is sometimes mistaken for each other because they both wear Cochran Johnson’s signature black frame eyeglasses. 

DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran Johnson, Lithonia Mayor Shameka S. Reynolds and behavior coach and Links Family Engagement CEO Lori Hanford at the Unsung Hero Gala on April 3. Photo submitted by Lori Hanford.

“My main focus is to work with the social and emotional needs of kids. If you don’t catch their attention, the learning is never going to happen. These kids deal with so much trauma that it’s hard for them to focus. I’m kind of like their mom at school,” said Hanford. 

Hanford’s students are dealing with a range of challenges, from behavior issues like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) to sexual and verbal abuse, food insecurity and illiteracy. Since the pandemic started, she has seen a rise in depression, cutting, suicidal ideation and purposely getting kicked out of class.   

“I spent a lot of time with my kids. I have a safe space. I set clear boundaries because kids with behavior issues need structure. They need discipline. They know they can come talk to me if they need to vent, but they can do it in a respectful way,” she said. 

It takes about three months to earn a child’s trust, she said. 

By teaching strategies for coping, she guides them to choosing new behaviors that set them up for success. She’s a liaison who works with teachers, parents and students to get everyone on the right track. 

“I believe when you build a relationship with a child and parent, you stick with it,” said Hanford.  

In her office, students can find a stash of school supplies and snacks. Hanford accepts gift cards to WalMart, Target, Kroger and Publix. To donate, email her at [email protected]

Tucker residents can look for Hanford at the Tucker Day parade on May 7, where she and Carolyn Collins from Tucker High School will be grand marshals. Hanford is a Stone Mountain resident, but both of her children graduated from Tucker High School.

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