Merced County Times Newspaper
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Family Resource Center celebrates 25 years of service

Dennis Haines wants people undergoing severe life challenges to know there’s hope at the end of the tunnel.

Haines is a family social services supervisor with the Family Resource Council, an arm of the Merced County Office of Education. This alliance of individuals and public-private organizations is celebrating 25 years this week.

About 75 people attended the celebration on Sept. 26 at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, with presentations from FRC staff and partners, and a video produced by MCOE’s Merced Educational Television (METV).

The council now offers an eight-module series of classes for parents which lasts 16 hours. These classes run for eight weeks. The group is currently working with parents caring for children who have experienced trauma, such as domestic violence, child abuse or drug use in the home.

“We treat every person with dignity and respect,” Haines said. “We treat people with kindness and firmness as well and we build relationships. We are meeting them where they are at.”

The council’s 3,000-square-foot office is at 1573 W. Main  St., near V Street. Haines said the office typically serves 10 to 12 walk-ins a day, along with phone calls. Those visiting the center may be facing issues with food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical needs.

He estimates 300 to 400 parents attend classes each year, with more than 1,000 classes held annually. The council collaborates with the Merced County Human Services Agency, behavioral health and recovery programs, the Merced County Probation Department and First 5 of Merced County.

“People have been coming here for 25 years. They know us. Almost 5,000 people come through our office in a year. Multiply that over 20 years and you’ve got 100,000 people,” Haines said.

Haines and resource specialists Carrie Schaller and Shavon Roach conduct classes in the community in English and Spanish. The council holds family wellness meetings at the Main Street center seven times a year, typically with 15 to 20 people attending. The last session had 25 individuals participating.

Haines stresses it’s important that people feel safe talking with them. There’s no pre-judging and clients can decompress and work through the stresses they are facing. Building trust is a key component, Haines said.

Roach says everyone who walks through the door is in crisis and in need of services.

“There are so many issues going on. Not only do we meet them where they’re at, we connect them with resources. Folks in crisis need a lot of services and relationship-building is very important,” Roach said.

By the fourth module in the series of classes, Haines said parents will open up about their past and the circumstances of their lives.

Classes cover advocacy, psychological and physical safety and understanding feelings and emotions, plus making connections in the community.

“It’s been pretty amazing to me. They are defining what trauma is and talk about how the behaviors of children can be triggered by their parents’ actions. The biggest thing for us is being the hub where they go to find resources in Merced County. We want to be a place where families can connect for support,” Haines said.

During classes, Haines said parents learn how to become advocates and ask the right questions when they deal with service providers. One of the last class modes is self-care, which covers breathing exercises and how to do research on available services.

Haines said the feedback they are getting from social workers and other agencies about council programs is positive.

“We see with clients they seem to be utilizing the tools they received and are putting them into practice. The biggest compliment we get is when someone says they didn’t hit someone while they were angry or walk into a liquor store,” Haines said.

Jeff Kettering, the county’s chief probation officer, praised the council for providing education, prevention and intervention to give people an opportunity to get back into society.

Scott Pettygrove, HSA director, said his office has had a longstanding relationship with the council and it has been a successful partnership.

Haines, who has been with the program for 21 of its 25 years, said in the future he would like to see programs launched to cover anger management instruction for adults and teenagers and an eight-week series launched on strategies for effective parenting.

When it first started, the council dispersed $5,000 or $9,500 grants to participating agencies and gave out $1.2 million in about nine years. It also produced a community resource directory covering 250 different programs.

After funding changes about a dozen years ago, the council started concentrating on parenting programs for foster and adoptive parents and developing case plans with the county. Parenting programs grew to cover classes for parents and teens, and helping parents recover from substance abuse problems.

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