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Archives Family supports step up to meet COVID needs

February 17, 2021

By Jessica Hargrave
Contributing Writer

In 2019, the Healthy Families for a Hopeful Future program opened its doors to North Country families. Program offices based in the diocesan Catholic schools are evolving as an integral resource of information and support. The HFHF program continues to be successful despite the challenges of providing services in a COVID-19 world.

The mix of traditional, remote or hybrid learning has been dizzying for Catholic schools’ staff, students, and parents grappling with the effects of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last March. The response from schools to support families within the Diocese of Ogdensburg during the pandemic has been quick, given the unexpected closures. While there’s no doubt teachers and administrators are keeping the wellbeing of families as a top priority, it’s the family support coordinator – part of that Healthy Families for a Hopeful Future program – who is serving a crucial role in our Catholic schools providing information and support to families, staff, and community groups.

“Whether that is social, emotional, or physical. We want to assist anyone in the community that may need support in finding resources to help them do this,” said Michelle Martin, family support coordinator for Augustinian Academy in Carthage.

Martin sees herself as the bridge between home and school for students and parents, as well as a bridge between resources and parents. When schools shut down in March, her focus was getting students the technology they needed to learn remotely. She then checked in with all the families regularly to see how they were doing.

“For many families it was rough, being at home and being the teacher, the worker, the everything. I would check in, how are you doing physically? Do you need me to drop anything off? Once I dropped off clothes for a family,” said Martin.

When Martin felt the families were in good shape, she lent a hand at the local food pantry and milk distribution project making sure families were fed.

Kathy Behrens, family support coordinator for Trinity Catholic School in Massena, feels blessed since the school has been able to offer in-person learning five days a week despite holding the first two weeks of the school year in September through remote instruction due to local Covid-19 community issues.

“Being in a Catholic school, we are able to remind ourselves that this is totally out of our control. God is right there with us, leading us through all of this,” said Behrens.

Family visits are part of the job for family support coordinators, and like school, look a little different. Behrens meets and welcomes families of pre-k, kndergarten, and new students either in parks, their driveways, or virtually. Behrens is available to meet with any interested family residing in the area, too.

The pandemic has also brought opportunity. Behrens goes into classrooms to teach social and emotional wellbeing strategies to the students. She has also partnered with Citizen Advocates in Massena to offer mental health counseling services to students at Trinity Catholic School on Wednesdays.

Family support coordinators have had to think outside the box plan and offer family events and activities. Last year Behrens started “Take Time Thursdays,” which connects the community with families. Now, due to COVID-19, Take Time Thursdays are virtual, and the focus has turned to family engagement. In December, families shared pictures of their Christmas traditions, while in January they showed off their favorite winter activities on the school’s social media pages and website. This month, families are making appreciation and thank you cards to be given to Trinity’s faculty and staff during Catholic Schools’ Week.

At Augustinian Academy, students were introduced to yoga to help alleviate stress. Their new focus is learning about healthy eating habits. Michelle Martin and Cornell Cooperative Extension will soon introduce third graders to camp-in-a-box, which will be delivered to the students’ homes. She adds that for the February and March she would like to offer virtual trainings for parents, on topics such as ADHD.

Fortunately, Augustinian Academy was awarded a grant to support and enhance its before and after school care program. Martin says the program has been a Godsend for working parents.

Like all family support coordinators, Martin and Behrens want parents and community members to know they are available to assist whether it’s with school resources or community service referrals. Martin plans to have open office hours at St. James Church in Carthage, a few hours a week to help people complete paperwork for housing, Medicaid, and other social service needs. Behrens regularly passes along flyers to St. Peter’s Parish to post on their social media page.

If you want more information on school programs, activities, or community services/resource access for your family, contact the family support coordinator at your Catholic school.

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