Using an innovative program to mentor and provide longterm support, Families Plus is changing lives and helping children thrive. This month, it's celebrating 20 years of serving Delta County.
Sometimes, life is difficult. Essential needs can be a challenge to cover. High demands overwhelm. Some families have low resources and high needs. That's where FAM+ can fill in.
Its website, www.familiesplus.net, explains how this organization is "dedicated to walking beside the family to make sure each child grows up to become healthy, educated, and productive young adults."
Dr. Brenda Holland, executive director, said, "If a child is given the right and sustained resources, they can do well."
The organization began with the birth of a family-mentoring concept from Dr. Holland in 1998. While she was a practicing clinical psychologist, Dr. Holland saw the need to provide long-term support for families. Many reliable short-term programs existed, but they didn't give consistent support.
At first, she was nervous because using families to mentor had never been done.
Her goal? Connect children to families who could serve as strong role models and provide stability. Unsure but determined, she gathered other community members and created this community-based program to serve youth in the county.
It didn't take long for the family mentoring concept to catch on. "We're continually blown away by the community's support," said Dr. Holland. "Our signature piece is still providing children with a family that mentors."
Essentially, this concept means a family volunteers to bring a child into their home to simply participate in normal family life. The idea is to provide a safe space and model stability.
Jami Taylor, owner of Tayshen Automotive, describes the experience as "rewarding" but also cautions that mentoring is something a family needs to feel called to do.
"Watching the child come out of their shell, seeing them change, is the best thing," she said. "Many children don't realize how much is truly out there and mentoring families can show them there's a different life available than what they're used to."
She and her husband, Rob Shenold, volunteered as a mentoring family earlier this year and enjoy being positive role models. "Our mentored child loves getting to just hang out in our shop," said Taylor. "And, my employees get to be positive role models. They're good fathers and husbands."
Over the last 20 years, the nonprofit has also created other services families need. Each family decides what would benefit their child. These services are divided into two components: health care and community.
The health care component has a behavioral focus. FAM+ operates as a mental health specialty clinic working under the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health.
Each child is assigned a licensed mental health care professional and receives a complete annual mental health evaluation. Counseling is available to mitigate behavioral problems or emotional distress.
The child also receives assistance to access dental/wellness check-ups and substance use prevention.
Like the proverb "It takes a village to raise a child," the community component focuses on empowering families through community partnerships. While the input varies, the services include: a whole family volunteering to be a permanent mentor to a child; tutors and grade monitoring to ensure completion of homework; enrollment fees assistance for sports, youth clubs, lessons or summer camps; goods or services (i.e. rides, washers, beds); and assistance when in crisis.
On Mother's and Father's Day, FAM+ children even receive gifts to give parents to learn appreciation.
"Our program has survived because our community cares about kids," said Dr. Holland. "People are willing to fill in and add to what families provide for their kids."
For example, business and development director Kristi Hensley noted that when a 15-year-old mentioned she wanted to do dance, Families Plus was able to make this happen through donations.
"Every youth in the program has the ability to participate in activities they want," she explained. Hensley's job is to do outreach and education.
In addition, the community component encourages people to become involved through mentoring, tutoring, assisting with repairs, help with moving, support in the office, baking for events and volunteering for fundraisers. All volunteers are screened and trained to ensure the best care.
A Program of Innovation
The last three years FAM+ led a major federal grant along with the hospital, a private clinic and a safety net clinic. As this grant was completed, FAM+ was named a Champion Program in Innovation by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy from a set of 100 programs.
As a result, their work will be featured on the Rural Health Information Hub. This grant helped FAM+ integrate behavioral health professionals into five clinics, add 60 children to the FAM+ program and created a behavioral health committee for local agency leaders.
"We ultimately want to see other communities provide for their children in a similar way to our program," said Dr. Holland.
Now that this grant is ended, FAM+ is working diligently to fundraise. This plan includes looking at more ways to involve the community in addition to the usual spaghetti dinners or back to school/holiday drives.
Recently, FAM+ did a version of Dancing with the Stars for Delta. And, it's now providing individual and family therapy at the Families Plus building for any resident of Delta County. All insurance is accepted.
Families Plus also provides behavioral professionals at Delta Health and Wellness Center and Stoney Mesa Family Practice.
Giving a Hand Up
Most of the children who've partnered with FAM+ do well in school and have built strong social skills.
One big event FAM+ holds each year is a school supplies drive to support each child's education. Often families with multiple children and limited resources see this time of year as stressful.
At this year's picnic, 93 children received new backpacks with needed school supplies. "Seeing everybody dancing, hanging out and feeling comfortable was priceless," said Hensley.
"We stay with our most vulnerable youth and they do finally develop into healthy adults. Investing in FAM+ is investing in the health of youth who are struggling," said Dr. Holland. "If they can experience family strength, they can do it."
Thanks to FAM+, over 170 children have benefited from the long-term and community support offered.
There are three youth in particular many would have guessed wouldn't graduate high school. One is now a sophomore in college studying nursing. Another is in the military reserves starting college. The third worked for her mentoring family while looking for permanent work after graduation.
"Our program is voluntary, so families come in because they want to," said Dr. Holland. "We provide a network of support to help the children thrive."
"We strive to lift families up," said Hensley. She joined FAM+ after deciding to give back through mentoring.
"I didn't realize how big the community investment was when I joined," she said. One time Hensley was pulled over while hauling some Christmas trees. After the officer learned she was collecting toys for children in Delta County, he donated 300 Matchbox cars.
"I was amazed, but it's really just one example of the overwhelming response this community has to help Delta County's children," she said.
To become involved with FAM+ visit its website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-874-0464. Stay connected by following on Facebook under Delta County Families Plus.