Janet Boulware was running a little behind last Wednesday.
The executive director of the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation oversees after-school programs at four Davis schools, where low-income children receive tutoring, access to computers and school supplies, as well as snacks four days a week.
On Wednesday afternoon, just as Boulware was preparing to head from one campus to another, a student approached her with a personal crisis that’s not uncommon among the children the Bridge program serves: The student’s family had just lost their home, and they were now living out of a car.
It may be the sort of story that stops Boulware in her tracks, but it’s not one that she hears infrequently: Davis families struggling to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter for their children.
“It’s really basic needs,” Boulware said.
And when students reveal those needs to her, there’s only so much she can do.
At Montgomery Elementary School in South Davis, the need is perhaps greatest.
Nearly half of the school’s 400 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and many attend the after-school Bridge program there.
As much as the school’s parents, teachers and administrators strive to care for the needs of these students, there’s always been only so much they, like Boulware, can do to help them.
Now though, they’ll be getting a little backup.
On Tuesday, the first family resource center in Davis opened at the school, providing Montgomery families a place where they can find assistance in everything from transitional housing to access to health care, counseling, food, clothing and more, all on site five days a week.
“I’m very excited that it’s at this site, where we have the highest need in the district,” Boulware said.
Principal Sally Plicka said the center will be open to all Montgomery families and it will be as much about community-building as assistance.
“We really want it to be a center where all of our families can come, to take a parent education class, attend a meeting, just talk to other parents,” Plicka said. “Parents are welcome any time to stop in and visit with other adults.”
That’s indeed what other family resource centers throughout Yolo County have become.
The center in Knights Landing is home to a women’s group that actively lobbied to bring health care to the struggling town and succeeded: UC Davis medical students opened a regular clinic there last year. Women’s groups also have become active at the centers in West Sacramento and Woodland, as have youth groups.
“It’s not just basic needs that are critical,” notes Bob Ekstrom, executive director of the Yolo Family Resource Center, which operates all of the centers.
Rather, he said, the whole family needs to receive all of the services that will lead to self-reliance. So while family resource centers provide referrals for medical, dental and mental health care; assistance with transitional housing, food, clothing and more; the centers also offer things like financial literacy classes and programs on how to prepare fresh fruit and vegetables.
That’s what First 5 Yolo learned low-income families wanted most when the agency did a needs assessment last year: Parents need help and support in the areas of parent education, access to low-cost fresh produce, developmental screenings, financial literacy, access to health care and opportunities for young children to engage in early learning activities.
Now, thanks to funding from First 5 Yolo, a center providing all of that is open at Montgomery Elementary School.
Already, says case manager Vanessa Enriquez, who will staff the center full-time, people have been stopping in to ask for help signing up for health insurance, food assistance and counseling, as well as for basic needs for their children like backpacks.
Everyone envisions a place where enrichment classes can take place — perhaps dancing or cooking; where one parent can look after a couple of toddlers while their parents volunteer in a classroom; and where anyone struggling to get by can find help.
And though the site is limited space-wise — the center fills what was the music classroom just off the multipurpose room — specific donations from the public are welcome.
“We need Target gift cards in small denominations to buy clothes and shoes that we don’t have here,” Boulware said. “Also, grocery store gift cards.”
School supplies are also greatly needed, Plicka said.
“So many of our Davis schools enjoy fabulous parent support that Montgomery parents just can’t provide,” she noted, listing school supplies, funding for field trips and simple classroom necessities like tissues and art supplies as particular needs.
“The same things that parents donate at their own schools would be greatly appreciated here,” she added.
Other partners in the community already are helping out.
AYSO held a fall soccer sign-up at Montgomery recently, resulting in some children playing organized soccer for the first time in their lives, Plicka said.
Many families don’t have access to a computer to sign up online, so having AYSO come to them, where staff helped parents sign up, was “huge,” Plicka said.
The organization also provided scholarships for families who couldn’t afford AYSO fees and even ensured that practices would take place near the homes of families who lacked transportation.
“That was a really great partnership,” Boulware said.
The Davis Art Center also has offered to help out. The center provided a grant that will allow art teachers to come to Montgomery and provide art activities for children who generally can’t get to the Art Center.
It is, indeed, the beginning of a great partnership, Ekstrom said.
“Having resource centers connected to a school is ideal,” he noted.
Added Plicka: “What educators know is that when families are connected to schools, kids do better. And when families have unmet needs, it’s harder to connect to schools. (With this) center, families will have their needs met and connections will strengthen.
“Every student at this school will benefit,” she said.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy