Giving Thought: Family Resource Center keeps families stable and functioning during pandemic

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

The Family Resource Center of the Roaring Fork School District rests on the idea that children do better in school if they’re well-fed, happy and healthy.

And, like most people who work in or around the schools, the FRC’s family liaisons and case managers typically dial back their work schedule when school is out. Not during summer 2020, however.

“In a normal summer, the FRC is staffed minimally,” said Kelsy Been, public information officer for the school district. “This summer our staff members are working full time.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to traditional classroom teaching in the spring, but the district’s families have been feeling the ripple effects of the virus ever since. Accordingly, all hands at the FRC have been on deck and busy. During normal times, the FRC partners with parents to help them access various services — medical, dental, vision, mental health — in order to keep the family healthy. Sometimes this involves financial assistance, but nothing on the scale that they’re experiencing now.

“From March to May 2020, the FRC provided more than $150,000 in direct economic assistance,” Been said. “That’s triple what we typically provide in a 12-month period.”

The FRC is an arm of the school district, but it’s also a nonprofit organization that raises its own funds from governments, foundations and individual donors, among others. Soon after COVID-19 hit the valley, the FRC received grants from local governments and the Aspen Community Foundation’s 2020 Rescue COVID-19 Regional Response funds in order to support their families through the crisis.

Many of the district’s families were already living from paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exacerbated their situation and endangered their housing, food security, internet access and health care, among other things. The FRC is also hearing from previously stable families who now find themselves in a vulnerable position, owing to a loss of income.

For the FRCs, this means they’re helping families to fill out applications for local, state and federal economic assistance. They’re also pointing families to regular food distributions around the valley, and places to get help with housing and medical treatment. Many families have taken advantage of the district’s own grab-and-go meals to keep their children fed.

“We’ve always collaborated with community partners, but COVID-19 really has made that collaboration even more important,” said Kelly Medina, program coordinator for the FRC. “I’m so grateful for how the community has come together.”

Since many of the district’s families are undocumented immigrants, they’re ineligible for certain government benefits, but the FRC is able to provide help, financial or otherwise, to any of its families. All school-aged children are granted access to public K-12 schools regardless of their immigration status, and the district sees all students’ families as their own.

COVID-related stress and anxiety is hitting many families in the valley, too. “We have been referring families with mental health needs to the Aspen Hope Center or Mind Springs Health (in Glenwood Springs),” Been said.

There’s currently no end in sight to the pandemic, and uncertainty is the byword for all of us. As the Roaring Fork schools are scheduled to begin instruction Aug. 17; however, the district announced July 24 that schools will open using an improved distance learning model, at least for the first few weeks. After that, it hopes to return to face-to-face learning provided its safe to do so.

Meanwhile, the FRC staff will continue to work with families to keep them healthy and functional. Whatever public-school instruction looks like this school year, we’re pleased that the Roaring Fork Schools are looking after their vulnerable families year-round, and especially under today’s strange and stressful circumstances.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.