Earlier this week, Jenny Lindsay, executive director of the Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers (FRC), left a surprising message in a reporter’s voicemail. “In elementary and middle schools in the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District, 51 percent of the kids are eligible for free or reduced [price] lunch,” she said. “In answer to your question of need, there you go.”
In other words, over half of public elementary and middle school students in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt qualify for government-subsidized lunches. According to Kids Count Data Center, which provides statistics related to the well-being of children and families nationwide, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs in Colorado has risen almost 10 percent since 2008.
Hence the need for organizations such as FRC, the goal of which is to help families within the Re-1 school district raise healthy kids and become self-sufficient by connecting them with community resources.
According to the organization’s website, when children have warm clothes, a safe home, access to mental and physical healthcare providers, and activities that build self-esteem, 78 percent show an improvement in overall health and learning behavior, 88 percent improve in academics, and 89 percent see an improvement in general behavior.
Lindsay said FRC takes its cue from the Aspen Community Foundation’s Cradle to Career Partnership program, which works with local nonprofits toward common outcomes for kids and to fill in gaps in services. “Working as a community toward a common goal is better than each nonprofit doing its own thing,” she said.
FRC also uses a strength-based, family development model from Cornell University to help families become more self-reliant. “Many families come to us in crisis,” explained Lindsay, who came to FRC more than a decade ago after 20 years teaching in the Roaring Fork Valley. “We address the crisis first,” she said. “But we try to get a full picture of what’s happening with the family.”
Let’s say, for example, that a little boy is falling asleep in class and his teacher contacts Lindsay for help. The family is referred to FRC’s resource coordinator for an assessment, which often reveals the root of the problem.
“Maybe his mom is working nights and spends time with the kids [when she gets home] so the kids stay awake late,” said Lindsay. Other problems, such as substance abuse, child abuse or neglect, or lack of proper nutrition, can also surface during intake. “We can find funding options for substance abuse treatment, connect people with mental health therapists, and if the child can’t get up on his own, we can even help them buy an alarm clock,” she added.
During the 2012/2013 school year, FRC, which is funded in part by foundations, local and state governments, and individual donors, served more than 800 children, including more than 100 with dental problems. “The dental health piece can be really, really ugly,” said Lindsay, whose staff is trained to provide dental fluoride varnishing clinics. She said neither the kids nor the parents knew about the causes of tooth decay or the importance of preventive dental care. “Tooth care is not universal,” she added. “Most of these families are immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America where there can be cultural differences, like no fluoride treatment or no education about tooth care.”
FRC works with local dentists and helps find funding for kids with severe dental needs.
Lindsay said dental care is a big part of FRC’s work. “In order for kids to be successful in school, they must be free of pain, focused on learning, have a full belly, and feel good about themselves,” she explained.
FRC also provides vision screenings, parenting programs, and cooking and nutrition classes with local chefs.
The problems FRC grapples with, such as poverty, hunger, immigration, and child abuse and neglect, are systemic and can often be magnified in the Roaring Fork Valley. “A lot of people come to Colorado for the hope of a better life,” said Lindsay. “Then they can’t secure a job that pays a living wage in relation to the cost of living.”
She believes that change will come when more people are aware of their neighbors’ circumstances. “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye, and you must be patient with those you’re passing judgment on,” she cautioned.
FRC has offices in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, and the main phone number is 970-384-5694. “Anybody can call us anytime Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.to 4 p.m. for any kind of help,” said Lindsay. “And if we can point them in the right direction, we will.”