A single mother with two young children is managing to keep it together but is desperate to find a pre-school facility for her kids so she can continue being the breadwinner.
Both parents in another family are working but they need guidance on how they can research better job opportunities and more income.
A young mom who has just had a baby is seeking coaching on nurturing and caring for her child.
These and more scenarios are likely to play out in Kearny, courtesy of the nonprofit Prevention Links, which has been awarded a $240,000 grant by the state Department of Children & Families to set up and run a “Family Success Center.”
DCF finances such facilities around the state as “onestop shops” that provide free services to families “before they find themselves in crisis,” according to a department website.
Typically, this support includes providing access to information on family health services and health insurance programs, job-related services, life skills training, housing-related services, parent education and parent-child activities.
Pam Capaci, CEO of Union County-based Prevention Links, said the Kearny site will be the organization’s third Family Success Center. The other locations are in Elizabeth and Roselle.
The organization is continuing to search for a Kearny rental site, ideally, “where we can be accessible to most of the community,” she said. “We’re hoping to build sustainability so that maybe we can aim to purchase over time.”
Capaci said the Family Success Center – there are more than 50 state-funded around New Jersey with at least one in every county – is “designed to be a community gathering place where families can engage in programs to help strengthen. In this way, it’s similar to a Boys & Girls Club, only for families.”
To that end, Capaci said the FSC can offer families “healthy cooking options where volunteers teach how to make affordable and healthy meals or shift dietary habits.”
Or, at a “Mommy and Me” program, families can learn about “educational but also fun activities.”
“Financial peace,” as the name implies, shows families how to “manage a household budget” and to “set and maintain fiscal goals for the future.”
Another opportunity leads to job readiness skills: how to conduct yourself at a job interview or beef up your resume.
There can also be classes in ESL (English as a Second Language).
To pinpoint the particular needs of families in the Kearny community, Capaci said a Parent Advisory Committee will be formed to help identify those needs and then determine what types of programs will best meet those needs.
As part of that review, Capaci said the Kearny FSC could end up “blending with and enhancing existing social service programs within the Kearny community.”
Under state guidelines for FSCs, Capaci said, “You need to demonstrate you can reach at least 250 families a year. I believe that we’ll met that number and beyond, easily.”
According to Capaci, “One of our more popular programs is academic mentoring and tutoring for children after school,” involving mostly elementary and middle school kids, with parents invited to interact. “We’re trying to work with the whole family in all our programs,” Capaci said. “All have a parental component.”
Prevention Links is now in its fourth decade of operations, Capaci said. “We identify a family’s assets and build on those strengths. We also provide professional development training in life skills for teachers and we do the same thing with our parent clients.”
The Kearny FSC initially plans to solicit volunteers to serve at the center through fliers and advertisements, Capaci said, “but once we start to offer programs, typically those families that come out are those we ask to join [as volunteers].” Prevention Links’ Director of Family Success Centers Priscilla Machado will be the general overseer of the Kearny enterprise but Capaci said the organization anticipates hiring a Kearny site director and is interviewing for two “family partners.”
Hours for the Kearny site have yet to be scheduled. Capaci said that organization will be guided by learning from the Parent Advisory Committee what will work best for interested parents.
“We hope to have a soft opening by mid-October,” she added.
Members of the public who want to learn more about the operation are invited to call Capaci at Prevention Links’ Roselle office at 732-381-4100 or email her at pcapaci@ preventionlinks.org.
A similar venture, known as the West Hudson Family Success Center, operated in the back of a medical office at Kearny and Washington Aves. a few years ago but departed in 2013 after losing its state grant.
Kearny Town Council President Carol Jean Doyle recalled that, “They did free tax returns, after-school programs, family strength-building activities for several years.”
Doyle said she welcomed the new arrival. “Anything that can enhance families’ strengths is a wonderful thing,” she said. “To have that opportunity once again in Kearny, I can only see that as a positive in making our community stronger.”
Mayor Alberto Santo, who has met with Capaci, said the Kearny FSC “will be an additional resource to help families with counseling or to learn how to seek outside resources.” He said it should be especially helpful to “families who are borderline, struggling, along with single-parent households and those with language and cultural barriers,” noting that the FSC staff “will be bilingual.”