Kayla Vasquez-Riley knows how expensive raising a child can be.
After learning from her experience raising her first son, she said she stocked up on enough clothing and supplies to make it through the first year with her second son.
But he’s 9 months old now, and he’s already grown out of the stockpile, Vasquez-Riley said.
A tight budget created a challenge for her as she tries to keep up on diapers and new clothing.
“Sometimes things get really tight. You are sometimes living paycheck to paycheck, and emergencies come up,” Vasquez-Riley said. “Sometimes what you are planning on using that money on has to go to pay for something else.”
With the opening of the Longview School District Family and Community Resource Center in February, she now has a “nonjudgmental, heartwarming and welcoming” place to go for diapers, clothing and baby food when money gets tight, she said.
The center is located in the old Monticello Middle School wood shop, which opens into the school’s back parking lot. Its services are available for any family with a child enrolled in the Longview School District.
“I can call them without being judged. … I can go and say, ‘I’m running low. Can you help?’ ” Vasquez-Riley said. “It’s amazing they have that there.”
The resource center is “exactly what it sounds like,” said Amy Neiman, Longview Schools director of state and federal programs. It’s stocked with food, clothing, personal hygiene items and school supplies. It also connects families to other community assistance programs, such as the Lower Columbia Community Assistance Program and FISH of Cowlitz County, Neiman said.
“It’s a one-stop shop, so to speak,” Neiman said.
Parents like Vasquez-Riley might otherwise need to go to several different places to get resources for their families, she said.
“Sometimes when you ask for resources, they give you the runaround. You are trying to go here and go there,” she said. “They were all in one room (in the resource center) … instead of having to run around across town to figure it out or contact someone else to get information.”
Most schools in the Longview district have their own food or clothing closets, and several schools employ a family liaison who can connect students and their parents with local resources. The resource center grew out of an idea to extend those already available services, said Bridget Piper, Monticello Middle School assistant principal.
“We started out with an idea for a place that was welcoming to Monticello kids and parents. … It sparked into ‘Why just stop at Monticello kids?” Piper said.
The school’s central location in the district made it easily accessible for nearby families with students in elementary and high school, Piper said.
With its own entryway set off from the rest of the school, the center provides some a sense of privacy for families, said Mollie DuBois, the district’s liaison for homeless families. (For school safety reasons, families still must sign into the school as visitors. However, they can do that in the resource center instead of at the front office.)
“If you’re a family in need, the student doesn’t want to see their parents carrying a food basket from their school,” Piper said.
In addition to tangible resources, the center also provides social and emotional supports for parents and “kinship parents,” those who are raising their relatives’ children. Support groups and specialized events allow families to talk about their challenges and learn about the resources available to them.
A kinship parent who asked to be identified by her last name, Moore, met with a support group last week to learn about accessing her niece’s medical records.
“With not having custody of a child, we can’t take (her) to a doctor. And it’s really hard to get her enrolled in school because I can’t get her records,” Moore said.
Before the center, Moore would have had to Google her questions and wade through complex legal jargon on her own, she said.
“The meeting in the resource room was so much more valuable. .... We all felt a sense of relief that we finally had someone to turn to and someone who could connect us with different resources,” Moore said.
Adding the resource center cost the district very little because most of the funding came through donations or already available state and federal funding, school officials said. The total cost for the program was not available last week.
Almost all of the food, clothing, school supplies and furniture in the center were donated, including a large refrigerator for food.
“I think that’s what will be the success of this operation: The community is so generous,” Monticello Principal Scott Merzoian said.
The center will be open 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Families can also call DuBois or their school liaison to schedule a time to meet outside of the regular hours, DuBois said.
“Any time you work with students and families, you know there is a need like this,” Piper said. “We were just lucky enough to have the space to make it happen.”