United Way testing family initiative at three schools

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

At-risk students and their families will receive new support over the coming school year through a United Way of Southeast Missouri initiative.

The organization announced Tuesday an allocation of $40,000 to the "Family Support Initiative," which brings representatives from local not-for-profit groups together with school officials to address the needs of local youths.

The initiative will be funded through the Boys and Girls Club and includes four main components:

* After-school programs that teach life skills

* An assessment of family strengths

* Linking families with existing resources

* Opportunities for family activities.

Initially, it will take place at Jefferson Elementary, Central Middle School and Central Junior High.

"We're really just testing it this year in hopes that it will grow to Jackson and Scott City," said Nancy Jernigan, executive director of United Way.

A second initiative designates $13,000 toward using a developmental-asset approach to youth development. Jernigan said both are in response to a 2004 community assessment that highlighted needs among local families.

The United Way of Southeast Missouri, which previously covered Cape Girardeau County and Scott City, is also extending its services to Bollinger County this year, said Jernigan.

The Family Support Initiative will involve about 20 students from each school this fall and will track grades, discipline incidents and attendance among participants.

Jernigan said she hopes to see improvements in all those categories.

"We're not creating any new programs, we're just bringing existing programs to the at-risk kids," she said.

There may also be a mental health aspect to the initiative eventually, depending on the needs of families. Jernigan said the initiative will take representatives from community organizations into the homes of at-risk children to define specific needs.

For example, a single mother working two jobs could be benefited by the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, additional education for herself or resources that allow her to work just one job and spend more time with her children.

"We want to remove all barriers for these families," Jernigan said.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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