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KY Family Resource Centers “Investing in Families” by Removing Barriers to Success

Family Resource Centers and Student Service Centers recently bolstered with nearly $19 million increase from Kentucky General Assembly

Melissa Walker is at her desk ticking off what she had been working on this morning at her job at East Heights Elementary school in Henderson, Kentucky.

“I've been in touch with a shoe store downtown, because we give out shoe vouchers,” she said. “I've been in contact with a Hispanic family. I've had to translate some stuff.”

She’s worked on free dental care forms, calling a parent about classes, helping a student get into classes who couldn’t make it on time due to a parent’s car trouble. She spent some time reading with a student that morning because they needed a little help catching up.

Her office is simple. On the wall “Believe in Yourself … I do” is written. Beside her desk is a cart filled with “Paw Patrol” backpacks.

Walker is the Family Resource Coordinator at East Heights. Her job is multifaceted, and in her words, it’s to “remove barriers to success for students and their families.”

These “barriers to success'' can take many forms, and Walker and other “friskies” (a play on the acronym for Family Resource Youth Services Coalition of Kentucky, or FRYSCKy) try to meet them where they are.

Her room opens into a coat closet of sorts, containing coats, backpacks, supplies, shoes, underware, socks, “all kinds of things in here,” she said.

And if they can’t get it here, they have community partners like nonprofits and churches to help.

Family Resource Centers are in elementary schools across Kentucky. They serve all students but are funded based on their number of students eligible for free-and reduced meals.

For the 2022- 2023 school year, the Kentucky General Assembly increased funding from $183.86 to $210 per eligible student.

Middle schools and high schools have Youth Service Centers instead. Whatever grade level, these centers serve a lot of students and their families. On the east side of the state, they’ve taken on the massive challenge of helping flood-ravaged families in eastern Kentucky.

Walker says the needs of her students and their families will be different from other schools or grade levels.

“Every center is a little bit different,” she said. “High school, they may be doing drug prevention, they may be doing driving … there's just all kinds of things … mental health, that kind of thing.”

She is informed about needs based on surveys, and “dental” is one need they discovered based on surveys.

“We're bringing the dentist here for students that don't have dentists so that parents don't have to take off from work. So that also helps them succeed,” she said.

While she can’t say for certain the COVID-19 pandemic has caused it, she said students seem to be dealing with more mental health challenges, which can center around a death in the family, divorce or changing houses.

Walker goes on personal journeys with her families. She helps see them through tough times and celebrates when they come out the other end.

“We have to go beyond our students,” she said. “We have to invest in their families, and if we can invest in them, we can really make a difference for them.”

It’s this care and concern that got her nominated for a Henderson Schools “Making A Difference Award” this year.

“This award is a combination of all of us working together. In this specific family that nominated me, I have been with them, probably six or seven years. They have three children, they've had lots of ups and downs,” she said. “And I have had the privilege to be with them outside of this building, because I make home visits. And I do a lot of checking on them on the weekends, and that kind of thing.”

“Friskies” like her also coordinate enriching activities like a grandparents breakfast, mother’s VIP tea parties and food bags for weekends.

She said such activities are coming back after COVID, along with more home visits which were changed to phone calls during the pandemic.

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Tim Jagielo
The Family Resource Center of course, also has lots of school supplies.