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The center, which opened to families in August, is located next to the school district's main office.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Rosa Gonzalez (in green) and Jennifer Bartocci greet parents and children at the Family Resource Center. The St. Helens School District is rolling out a huge new welcome mat for parents and children in the district.

The district has opened what it calls the Family Resource Center. A grand opening is expected to take place sometime this winter, but the center has been open since August.

The center, located adjacent to the school district office at 474 N. 16th St. in St. Helens, will be promoting family engagement in a variety of ways.

According to the district, the center's goals include building positive relationships, supporting student and family well-being, working with families to connect them to supports and services within the community, hosting events and classes to promote engagement, providing a space to learn and access technology, and providing translation services as necessary.

The idea of a Family Resource Center was formed during the previous five-year strategic planning process for the district, outlining steps to take from 2016 to 2021.

Two staff members, Jennifer Bartocci and Rosa Gonzalez, will be handling the day-to-day operations at the new center.

Bartocci is a federal programs secretary, McKinney-Vento Liaison and foster care liaison, while Gonzalez is family resource liaison.

One function of the center will be helping assist students who are without homes.

Bartocci said St. Helens typically has anywhere from 100 to 120 students districtwide who experience housing insecurities. Of that 120, anywhere from 30 to 40 students are considered unaccompanied — in other words, homeless and not in the physical care of a parent or guardian.

"Those students, I interact with on a much more one-to-one level, making sure that they receive connections to resources, have an advocate, someone on their side to help them walk through the next steps for college and career, and things like that," Bartocci said.

The idea behind the center, which features a living room setting and a kitchen area, is to support these students in a comfortable environment.

Bartocci said, "One of the most helpful things, so far, is being able to have one-on-one conversations with students, and maybe another advocate that they have supporting them, and being able to have a space that's comfortable, that is welcoming, that they feel safe in."

Bartocci added, "Not only do we want to support them, but we want to come alongside them and teach them how to access and advocate for themselves, as well. Having this space and having the privacy and the confidentiality is incredibly important for that freedom to speak candidly."

The first face you're likely to see when you walk into the Family Resource Center is Gonzalez.

Gonzalez helps connect families with resources. She also speaks both English and Spanish and can provide advocacy and translation services for Hispanic families, she said.

Gonzalez believes the center will both wonderful and necessary.

"Our families currently need a place to come and feel welcome," Gonzalez said. "They can be comfortable — it's just like a living room, you get to hang out and just feel comfortable."

Privacy is also stressed at the facility.

"Privacy is important," Gonzalez explained. "A lot of people don't want to let other people know what's going on in their situations."

Superintendent Scot Stockwell said the facility can benefit kids and parents.

"That's really the desire, to help all people feel like they're welcomed in the district and have the resources to be successful," he said, noting that more transitory families, which may move from district to district, can have difficulties navigating a new system each time they move.

Stockwell added, "We have some very talented staff that can support them and direct them to where they have needs."

The Family Resource Center has been serving families since mid-August. A grand opening is set for later this year, although a date and time has not been announced.

"Already, there are some pretty heartwarming stories that are coming out of this resource center, where these two wonderful staff members (Gonzalez and Bartocci) are able to connect with families, get them some resources and help children get on the right footing when they start school," Stockwell said. "That's really what it's all about."

Hours of operation are:

Monday — by appointment only.

Tuesday — 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Wednesday — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or later with prior arrangement)

Thursday — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Friday — by appointment only.


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