West Linn-Wilsonville School District's new center connects families to services
The West Linn-Wilsonville School District recently launched the Family Empowerment Center, a new way it's supporting families during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Mayra Gomez, the district's director of college and career readiness, said she proposed the idea because she saw the need for it in the community.
"I saw that we were trying to support our families during hardship and we didn't know how," she said.
The district held a soft opening event Wednesday, Oct. 28, where it provided 36 families with access to services and answers to questions.
Located on the backside of Wilsonville High School, the center serves families with food, clothing, school supplies, access to mental health resources, local programs, education classes and much more.
Maria Horton, the bilingual family engagement specialist with the district, said the center focuses on connection and education.
"We wanted our families to connect with our school. As time passed by and we grew … there was clearly a need for something similar to this," she said.
She said some families had difficulty communicating with counselors virtually, and some needed access to tangible resources.
"It's like we needed a physical presence," she said.
It's also a place where parents can have face-to-face communication with someone who can address questions about their child's education.
Gomez and Horton said that, so far, people have come to the center for help enrolling new students, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, getting access to GED information and much more.
As local demographics change, Gomez said the district needs to listen intently to the community's needs.
"We're trying to be very culturally responsive to the families that we're serving," she said, adding that families in the district come from many different cultures. In one culture, caring about your child's academic success might look like being very hands-on with their schooling, while in others, it would be disrespectful to question a teacher.
"We need to learn: Who are the families we are serving and where are they coming from?" Gomez said.
Horton said her long-term vision of the center is not just a place where families receive services.
"My vision is of a learning environment so we can truly give or at least make our parents comfortable with the tools that life gives us at the time," she said.
She said it's about empowering parents to be active in their children's education.
She emphasized that the Family Empowerment Center is for everyone in the district.
"It's not for a particular culture or a particular situation or economic situation. … Everyone can approach us," she said.
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