This profile shows how Redding, Californias Safe School/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative
responded to the citys critical housing situation with innovative ways to address the needs
of many of the school districts most at-risk students. By melding rewarding contributions
with a bent for cost control, the Redding Empowerment Model for the Education of Youths (REMEDYs)
Family Center has become a hub of activity for both parents and children.
With low-income housing in short supply, more than 3,000 Redding families live in temporary housing, typically old motels-rundown structures long sidelined by the advent of an interstate highway. These motels are overcrowded, and their residents are fraught with domestic violence, drug use, and family management issues. The lack of full-service facilities contributes to substandard living conditions while transportation needs isolate families.
As REMEDYs director, Tom OMara, puts it, Students living five people to a room come to school with disadvantages. That is, if they go to school at all. Truancy is a serious problem among such students.
Seeing that children were being shortchanged with respect to learning opportunities and skilled parenting, REMEDY decided to establish the Family Center. Mr. OMara says, A safe and welcoming environment is our number one goal.
In planning the Family Center and links to various services, REMEDY sought ideas from the 47-member Redding Families First Collaborative. Mr. OMara maintains that planning was guided by a practical assessment of community needs. He says the process was simply open to all ideas-anything that would make a difference in a kid being in school.
Still, looking at the Family Center and its related services in terms of the 4 Ps—product, price, place, and promotion—the projects approach has the classic attributes of a social marketing effort.
The SS/HS initiative rented a house near the motels. There, children receive tutoring, get help with homework, and join in recreational activities. In addition to providing a warm and convenient refuge for children, REMEDY designed the Family Center to provide amenities that reduce the strain of daily living for parents.
After upgrading the 2,000-square foot bungalows electrical system, REMEDY brought in washers, dryers, kitchen appliances, and computers. Families can use the kitchen for meal preparation and do their laundry for free. The Family Centers computers support job searches and educational pursuits.
The project also saw a need to connect families with much-needed services. REMEDY considered establishing a van route; however, this option was rejected in favor of a taxi service—a more flexible and much less expensive way to get families to services such as the initiatives mental health care provider. Mr. OMara calls the cab service a huge asset.
REMEDY mounted an outreach campaign. Police officers and the Family Center administrator made home visits to the motels. Mr. OMara says the personal touch made a big difference. He admits that having a police officer knock on doors was controversial. It worked, though, as people felt safe and came to see the officer as someone who was interested in them.
Families also are linked to the Family Center via the School Attendance Review Board (SARB), which coordinates a districtwide effort to address attendance and behavioral problems. Two REMEDY staff members and a Redding police officer sit on the SARB, ensuring close ties.
While the Family Centers amenities have been a magnet for parents, REMEDY took the opportunity to engage them in activities that would boost their childrens development.
One such effort is a 13-week family literacy class in which parents receive childrens books and learn how to read them to their youngsters. Participants learn the moral of each story as they overcome their inhibitions about reading. REMEDY has given out more than 2,800 books.
In addition to obtaining books, parents who complete the family literacy course receive computers. REMEDY gets the refurbished machines from a local nonprofit group for just $25. Mr. OMara reports that 140 computers have been distributed thus far.
The popularity of the family literacy classes, along with the inducement of a computer, has yielded a 95 percent attendance rate. All participants have indicated that they would recommend the class to other parents. Tangible outcomes include significant increases in time spent reading to children, use of libraries, and purchase or borrowing of books.
REMEDYs emphasis on cost-effectiveness also can be seen in its approach to staffing. The initiative has employed three workers from AmeriCorps at a cost of $12,000 to $13,000 per year for each full-time staff member. The center also benefits greatly from the services of student volunteers from nearby Simpson College.
The volunteers work closely with the families that frequent the Family Center, providing tutoring, childcare, and other ad hoc assistance. Mr. OMara has high praise for them, describing one AmeriCorps staffer as the heart and soul of the Family Center; he plans to hire this volunteer at the end of her 2-year AmeriCorps term.
The initiative also keeps costs down in its mental health component. Over a 2-year period, REMEDY has obtained the services of seven Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) trainees from National University. For less than $20,000 per full-time equivalent, the MFT trainees from REMEDY provide vital therapy to Redding families while satisfying supervised clinical experience requirements.
The trainees serve four sites; plans call for further expansion. Their work includes seeing all 18 students at Reddings Community Day School for children who cannot function in a regular classroom. One MFT trainee will see kids at the Family Center this summer.
Looking ahead, Mr. OMara is quick to note that Redding is not home to any corporate giants who might serve as financial angels. Yet, pointing to 9,000 client visits in 2 years, he says, We have demonstrated both need and success.
An active communications effort has raised the projects visibility. In addition to reaching out to families in need, REMEDY has received media coverage. Project activities and events have been featured in television news segments (view video in Windows Media format: Video 1
, Video 2
) and in local newspapers.
Mr. OMara hopes the school district or REMEDYs other collaborative partners will pick up the cost of the family literacy program and the MFT trainees. He points to other REMEDY activities-teacher training and lock-down hardware-as programs that will provide a lasting impact. The initiatives focus on the coordination of emergency response services with schools and law enforcement also will pay dividends beyond the SS/HS grant period. As REMEDY tightens its belt, Mr. OMara plans to be busy this summer, writing grant proposals.