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‘A Source of Hope’

Family & Children Services helps families put pieces back together Olga Bonfiglio

Brian Powers

by

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Brian Powers

overty isn’t just about lack of money. It’s a condition that disrupts people’s lives in profound ways. Picture a single mother who is a victim of domestic violence and has to manage a low-paying job and take care of her three children on her own — without adequate transportation. Whatever she faces next — an unexpected illness or bill — can bring her to the breaking point. Those breaking points can become extremely detrimental for a family, create obstacles for healthy parenting, impair workplace performance, initiate violence, child abuse or neglect, and lead to depression and substance abuse. “The people we work with haven’t had a lot of breaks,” says Family & Children Services CEO Rosemary Gardiner. “It’s about people being so overwhelmed by a lack of resources that they don’t know what to do. If they have mental health issues or lack social and emotional skills, they have an added burden of holding a job or taking care of their family.”

Melissa Gonzalez, second from right, worked with Family & Children Services foster care specialist Natalie Kennedy, second from left, to regain custody of her children, from left, Michael Carney Jr., Madison Carney and Makayla Carney.

That’s when Family & Children Services can help families. For more than a century, the agency, which offers behavioral health and child welfare programs and services, has worked to preserve and reunite families as well as to provide them with skills to help prevent greater dysfunction. The agency has begun construction on a $5.1 million expansion that will enhance its work with families in identifying and reducing the obstacles they face while providing them with tools and resources for everything from effective parenting to dealing with behavioral health issues. Many of the agency’s clients are individuals and families who are asset limited, income constrained and employed, or ALICE, an acronym coined by the United Way to describe the “new poor.” They are the mechanics, home health aides, day-care workers, kitchen w w w.encorekalamazoo.com | 19

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