Helping Woodburn's needy
What began as an idea generated within the City of Woodburn offices and continued as a successful community development block grant application is now filling out as a full-fledged social-service providing site in the city.
On Monday, Jan. 10, Woodburn Community Services Director Jesse Cuomo provided the Woodburn City Council with an update to the fledgling Family Resource Center, which is coming to fruition.
Cuomo and Woodburn Community Relations Manager Maricela Guerrero have been working with various nonprofits and social service providers to populate the FRC, which is the home base for Love INC. The original idea was to provide a location where multiple social services could be offered, making referrals easier between them and their clients.
Many services have traditionally been provided in other locations, such as Salem, forcing people with needs and minimal means to travel to get the help they need. FRC stands to change that.
Cuomo invited leaders from the various agencies making use of the facility to sit in and speak during the meeting. A list of the services using the FRC, or pending its use, include Love INC of North Marion County, Center for Hope and Safety, Safety Compass, Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency and Liberty House.
The service provided through this combination ranges greatly from help with utility payments to circumventing child abuse or sex trafficking.
"It fills up your cup to work with people who work so hard to do amazing things for people who are truly are in need — all over the spectrum and so many different aspects," Cuomo said. "The focus of this Family Resource Center is to focus on the low to moderate income, but they really touch lives in so many ways across the process. Hopefully, this center provides them a good space to do so."
Cuomo noted that a needs assessment and analysis for the Woodburn area indicated that many services were in demand; issues needing attention include houselessness, mental health awareness and counseling, health care, dental services, transportation, basic food needs, domestic violence and child advocacy and abuse.
Perhaps the most impactful of the current agencies with plans to use the FRC is the Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, an umbrella for a wide assortment of needs providers.
MWVCAA heralds a theme of "Many programs. One Mission." Those programs listed on the agency's website indicate the depth of its reach: Energy Services, Head Start (early childhood education), HOME Youth Services (at-risk youth shelter and resources), The ARCHES Project (addresses housing instability), Child Care Resource & Referral, De Muniz Resource Center (helps those exiting the justice system), Nutrition First, Weatherization (energy efficiency for low-income homes).
It is primarily funded through state and federal sources.
Kaela Lombardi, MWVCAA's resource services program manager, said the agency is currently undergoing a needs assessment for the north county area, and it plans to have a presence in the FRC at least a couple of times a month.
"Generally, the biggest thing we provide is one-time emergency assistance," Lombardi said, listing deposit money, rent, arrearage, and a broad range of utilities as among that. "We can also assist with barrier removals…If people are looking to get into housing and they're struggling due to bills that are in collections, things like that, we can assist people with those to hopefully help them become a more attractive tenant to a landlord."
"(MWVCAA) is the overarching agency that sort of keeps us all together; runs the finances; runs the executive branch of it â€“ runs the board," Lombardi said. "(MWVCAA) keeps our overarching message together."
One word articulated by several of the agency spokespersons speaking about the FRC was "thrilled."
"We are so thrilled to be part of the Family Resource Center. We believe in the co-location model as lowering barriers to service," said Esther Nelson Garrett, CEO of Safety Compass. The organization, which was founded in 2017, offers free and confidential advocacy for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation in Clackamas, Marion and Washington counties.
Garrett said the SC helped 226 survivors within its region last year, including 66 in Marion County.
"We are thrilled to be in the Family Resource Center and providing services," echoed Jayne Downing, executive director of the Center for Hope and Safety, which carries a similar charge as Safety Compass and encompasses areas such as child care, abuse, domestic assault and violence and human trafficking.
Downing said the program received more than 33,000 contacts last year, a significant number in northern Marion County included among them.
"We have been providing services in northern Marion County for many, many years, and we usually having to meet folks in the library or parks or places like that. (We) really struggled to have a place to meet folks confidentially and also to have a support group up in the Woodburn area," she said. "We've done that for many, many years. We're thrilled that our space in the FRC is going to be large enough once we are able to have folks coming in with families."
Love INC Executive Director Ryan Smith said the Woodburn nonprofit has been at the FRC for roughly a year.
Initially, Love INC saw a dip in the requests for its services, and Smith believed that was due to people not knowing that the area's umbrella nonprofit had physically moved. Service requests have since returned to traditional, pre-move levels.
Smith said 80% of those seeking help from Love INC are Woodburn residents; 92% are below us poverty line; 70% are Hispanic or Latinx. He said the facility has bilingual services daily and trilingual one day a week.
Through partnerships, Love INC has established services such as dental vans with medical teams, COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for people, and the issuance of clothing. Smith lauded the community support, providing for the basic necessities for families, especially with young children, and other needs such as laundry vouchers and oil change vouchers and fuel cards.
"We've seen a big increase of people just living out of their cars," Smith said. "And the cost of fuel doesn't look like it's going to go down to at least what it was when I was in high school."
Love INC has primarily been a frontline service that steers the needy through the appropriate avenues.
"We do a lot of resource referrals, which makes it really excellent to be in the FRC. We make referrals to organizations like Safety Compass (and) ARCHES all the time, so it's really wonderful to have those groups in house.
"We just really appreciate all that the city has done for their residents, and we're here to partner with all of the organizations at the FRC, it's really great and meets the needs of our clients," Smith said.
Founded more than 20 years ago, Liberty House is a primary regional advocacy group for abused children, serves Marion and Polk counties with specialized staffing, including social workers and pediatricians.
Liberty House Chief Executive Officer Alison Kelley said she's been with the agency for more than eight years. When she began her post, it served about 300 children a year. That has since surged to more than 1,200 per year, some of whom are in the Woodburn area.
"We serve between 100 and 200 children annually from north county. We were just incredibly honored to be included in the Family Resource Center. We're excited," Kelley said. "We did a lot of visiting and space planning. And thank you to Scott (Derickson) and thank you city council for assisting us…We're excited to be able to create a plan to get into that space."
Liberty House will initially provide preventative education services in the area and grow from there.
Kelley said the collaboration between various social services providers and the unique challenges of their respective jobs engenders a strong bond between them, which is fortified by having the FRC available.
"We have a special place in each other's hearts; everybody does really good work and its difficult work," Kelley said. "And just the idea of being in your Family Resource Center, and being able to be there to make referrals, to receive referrals, and just to coordinate those services — it's game changing."
Mayor Eric Swenson said the FRC sprouted from an idea City Administrator Scott Derickson presented to the city council, which led to a successful grant application, awards from which provided for the physical space.
'Right now, with Jesse and Maricela being about to put it all in place and make it happen, we're all thrilled that it is up and running so quickly, relatively speaking," Swenson said.
Cuomo said the current focus is to continue getting the social services available to meet the area's needs.
"We are working with other groups to finish filling out the space to meet the needs of Woodburn and north Marion County," Cuomo said.
"Then it's just kind of maintaining and making sure that these awesome service providers have what they need at an affordable cost," he added. "It's not about us making any kind of financial gain off this; it's about us providing a service to our community."
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