Local projects of recent years were inspired by a brand new Head Start facility at Fairfield School. The first of these projects was arranged by Camille Ronzio and headed by Mark Peeters and Ray Schneidmiller. The brand new facility needed a playground and Southtowne pitched in time and money. Head Start was clearly interested in continuing to work with Rotary, but at the same time cautious; they were used to more talk than action, and Camille realized that one of our first tasks was to build trust with Head Start and then with the families we wished to serve.
Camille arranged for the Family Advocates, who know the kids and families, to identify kids and families in need where Head Start (or other community helpers these advocates know about) cannot respond. Camille leads the effort to find community service agencies to help these families and kids and to provide help from Southtowne where necessary. Because emergencies cannot wait for committee meetings to be called to decide on each case, a small group of Southtowne Rotarians forms an emergency response group so that decisions on the use of emergency funds can be made very quickly. In this manner, Southtowne finds families that need emergency food (often when school is out and no school lunches are available), help with housing issues (utility bills, dangerously smelly carpets, landlord issues), help with transportation issues that prevent them from working (providing public transportation or help with ailing automobiles), and educational support (a loan to take a licensing class). Some of the emergency funds come in the form of donations to the family and some in the form of no-interest loans.
One of the first things that Head Start counselors asked for was to provide emergency food for families that are ‘on the edge’ at the times when the kids are not in school so that parents can keep the kids and themselves fed for a long weekend. (Since the kids get fed in school, this is less of a problem while school is in session.) The Head Start advocates try to keep aware of the family issues and make recommendations for food box distributions. Lonny and Mary Ellen King have been ‘kings’ of this program and they have kept hundreds of school kids and their families from going without food during tough times.
Other emergencies may include a family possibly getting evicted from housing or losing their electricity because of a very temporary shortage of cash. The costs of finding and moving into a new apartment or turning on electricity and paying required additional deposits can mean homelessness or no heat for a family. Such loans or grants are not intended to enable people to continue unrealistic lifestyles. We look for a realistic chance that the rent or electricity bill will be affordable in the very near future.
Head Start and Southtowne have also been doing a Family Day each year for several years. Family Day allows Rotarians and the Fairfield Head Start community the opportunity to get together in an atmosphere of celebration and fun for kids, their families, and many Rotarians. The event is also designed to build relationships and trust within our community and to identify needed community resources.
Ben Mondragon, the leader of the Sock-It-To-Me project, helped organize another special project. With extra donations, Southtowne is able to donate boxes of socks and underwear to Head Start families. This is always one of their top needs; therefore, it’s a project that is very important to Southtowne Rotarians. In the past, we have delivered items to Whiteaker Head Start, and to infants and toddlers at Early Head Start.
Southtowne has also been doing a literacy program in conjunction with Fairfield Head Start. Once a month during the school year, Southtowne members read a story to the Head Start children and do an art activity associated with the book. Each student then gets a copy of the book to take home and keep.
Another program that is just starting is to help families of Head Start kids by giving them grants for educational purposes. One grant for $150 is going to a man for an online certification course to improve his qualifications for heating and air conditioning work.
Our annual Wine & Salmon Festival contributes to Head Start’s emergency loan fund for needy families, warm clothing for the winter, monthly activity and books for each child, and family activity nights.