By Nicole Daniel
Standing patiently inside the Churchill Health Center, a high school boy waits to receive his free flu shot from the registered nurse as another student speaks with the mental health therapist. Up the street at the Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County, a three to five-year-old boy hugs and comforts his friend who is grasping tissues in his hand as tears stream down his cheeks. Wiping his eyes, he holds back his tears long enough to say, “I just miss my mom.” No matter how old, the children of the Churchill neighborhood struggle to cope with the hardships their families are facing. Since 2008, the decline in the economy has resulted in substantial job loss, which has left some families in the Churchill neighborhood without homes, health care, or a proper education. Working to improve the lives of these families, the Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County and the Churchill Health Center provide access to an early education and health care for families of low income.
As demonstrated by the young boy who comforts his crying friend, one of the many lessons taught at the Bailey Hill Head Start organization is recognizing emotions and learning how to cope with them. Sandra Barnes, Regional Manager and supervisor for the organization, who has worked at various Head Start locations since August 1999, explains how “Head Start programs promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children.” Serving low-income families with children of ages five and younger, the teachers at Head Start focus on education, health, nutrition and social skills, ensuring that “our youngest children have a solid foundation for life.” By including the parents in decisions that determine who teaches their children and what lessons are taught in the classrooms, parents can stay involved and active in their child’s learning process, an aspect that has become more imperative in recent years.
Due to the decline in the economy, Barnes has noticed a steady increase in the number of families applying for the Head Start program, as well as an increase in the number of homeless applicants. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, there were approximately 3,500 people without homes in Lane County, Oregon in 2008. As the failing economy caused job loss, reduced housing values and homelessness, it also resulted in budget cuts among school districts and organizations, including Head Start of Lane County. Although Barnes and the other staff members work to enroll homeless families as quickly as possible, the waiting list continues to grow, far exceeding the number of children and parents they are financially able to facilitate. Despite the many struggles, Barnes is proud that “both the school district and Head Start of Lane County have staff that are committed to providing an excellent academic experience for the children in the Churchill area.”
Speaking from experience, Vidya Nichols, both Head Start employee and parent of an enrolled child, expresses her gratitude for the improvement she has seen in her son’s social skills since enrolling. Nichols has been working as a family advocate and case manager for families at the organization since January 2011. Her job includes helping families reach any goals they may have, whether they be finding a job, going back to school, teaching better parenting techniques and, overall, “giving the whole house a better environment,” all aspects that will better the lives of the children. Nichols is one of the many staff members at Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County who dedicates her time to helping build a solid learning foundation for the children and teaching parents necessary skills. According to Nichols, “Head Start strongly believes parents are the primary educators.”
In addition to free flu shots, the Churchill Health Center provides a free lunch program for eligible students in families of low income. Although located in the Churchill High School, the health center offers health care to all 4j school district eligible students, including those who are homeschooled, aged 21 and younger, no matter the families’ financial situation. As a nonprofit organization, the clinic receives funding from the school district, state funds and donations, allowing the facility to provide aid to the many families who cannot afford or pay for treatments. Kim Roellig, who has been working as a registered nurse with the health center since September 2010, is one of five staff members at the clinic. Along with a nurse practitioner, two mental health therapists and a health receptionist, they work hard to build a relationship with the Churchill community.
Their connection to the neighborhood has grown stronger over the years as struggling families have required help more than ever. According to Roellig, “There is a huge increase in students seeking mental health care,” an occurrence she believes is directly related to the economy. According to the United States Department of Labor, unemployment in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon rose from nearly ten thousand in 2008 to twenty-five thousand in 2009. Although the number of unemployed has steadily decreased since then, families are still experiencing financial hardships. “A lot of depression and a lot of anxiety,” according to Roellig are among the many problems children face due to financial situations at home. Brandt Stuart, mental health therapist at the health center, includes substance abuse and living in high conflict families to the list of reasons as to why students seek his help. “I have seen much more anxiety and depression which has been exacerbated by economic stress. Also, it seems that the stress of addiction in families has increased with many parents out of work.” Busier than ever, Stuart has noticed a significant increase in the number of families without insurance or who are under-insured using the services provided at the health center.
The need for organizations that provide all forms of aid to communities has drastically increased over the years as a direct result of the failing economy. Families are struggling, resulting in children who are suffering. According to Roellig, “Economic issues are the greatest impact for the students in our community.” Weather a child needs free flu shots, health care, or an early introduction to learning the necessary tools for a solid foundation for life, the Churchill Health Center and Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County organizations will work to facilitate those needs and ease the strain on families and children. As stated by Barnes, there will be help “where the need is.”
Sidebar: Organizations in Need
While nonprofit organizations like Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County and Churchill Health Center provide aid to those who can’t afford it, the organizations themselves are in need of financial aid. According to “The Effect of the Economy on the Nonprofit Sector: A June 2012 Survey,” 40 percent of the nonprofit organizations that participated in the survey reported a decline in financial contributions and eight percent of the respondents indicated that their organizations were in danger of closing. As a result, 17 percent of those in financial trouble reduced program services and eleven percent had to lay off employees. According to Vidya Nichols, Bailey Hill Head Start is “barely operational at the moment.” Due to limited government funding, the organization is forced to rely on fundraisers that are organized and supported by the enrolled parents. Facilitating every low-income family in the Churchill neighborhood in need of help has become a challenge for the organizations. Nevertheless, Bailey Hill Head Start of Lane County and Churchill Health Center remain open, helping all who walk through their doors.