Student Parents' Home Away From Home
Family resource center provides shelter for student parents
March 1, 2004 4:29 PM
Got a kid, a job, and a full load of classes? Student parents in need of extra support can turn to an on-campus program that caters to their specific needs.
The Stay-in-School Family Resource Center acts as a haven in the midst of a storm for hundreds of parents navigating their way through college. Students who step inside the door will be welcomed by an exuberant staff that shares enough love to dispel stress from anyone’s day.
“With them, there is no making mistakes, all you can do is try and try your hardest and they are going to back you up,” Cherie Lewis, mother of one, said. “You don’t have to donate money. You just have to go to school."
The grass roots, non-profit resource center helps student parents get through school. Its focus is to help parents reach their educational goals. They offer a multitude of resources that parents can utilize to better their lives and the lives of their children, said Frederick Gaines, resource center program coordinator.
The center offers support, counseling, workshops, resources, computers, and even a child-friendly room where parents can leave their kids when they are in a bind. The center also serves as a place to relax and interact with other parents who understand the challenge of attending school while raising a child. It is a place parents can express concerns about life’s challenges and be treated respectfully while seeking solutions.
“Some days I’m so tired I feel like I’m going to pull my hair out, but they are so supportive. They are like my crutch or my cane. They hold me up so I can keep going,” Lewis said.
Support through the Stay-in-School Family Resource Center comes in many forms. Pretty much anything goes. The staff will eagerly jump on any challenge and work with parents to figure out the most practical way of solving problems. If they don’t have a solution, they will immediately offer contact information of someone who can.
“The main goal is to get parents educated and to show them that their children aren’t some type of burden, that they are a strength within us,” said Summer Miranda, staff coordinator and mother of four.
Miranda, who had her first child at 16, said, “Having children is a strength, they are support. You have a little family, a little network. This is support and love. It’s a benefit.”
Some parents might be too consumed with stress to feel that way, but with all of the resources offered at the center, it’s possible to create enough stability to focus on the positive aspects of family life.
The center offers workshops on a range of topics. Some workshops are focused on the development of parenting skills, such as providing proper nutrition, childcare, stress, and time management. Economic issues such as student rights under welfare reform, money management, and financial aid are also workshop topics.
Housing issues are addressed by the center’s staff. They offer legal support on renter’s rights. The staff will advise students and provide resources to those who feel the need to get out of their living situation. If a student parent needs to move out of their parent’s house, a dangerous neighborhood or a situation of domestic violence, help will be provided, the staff said.
Gaines said that he sees his mother and "aunties" in many people who utilize the center. He sees their potential and wants to help them in their fight to overcome the tremendous odds of remaining in poverty. He said he loves to show people the direction to go and show them the steps to get there.
Monthly support groups are held in which a counselor from SF State’s department of counseling and psychological services give parents a chance to digest the issues they are facing and come up with real solutions.
“I think it’s really wonderful that there is something here that helps to support those needs,” said Derethia DuVal, a marriage and family therapist.
Gaines said the membership of the resource center is diverse. People of all ages, ethnicities, economic status, family background, and personal histories utilize the resource center. Both undergraduate students and graduate students make use of the extensive services provided.
Created by student parents and supportive faculty, the center was founded four years ago. The idea came about in a social work class taught by Prof. Roma Guy. Student parents discussing their problems decided the campus needed a support system to help solve the unique problems of attending school while raising families, Miranda said.
According to the center’s Web site, “1,700 SF State students and their children have visited the homework/computer lab and child friendly room at the center” in the past six months. Data showing use of the center prior to this is not yet available.
Three new employees started at the Stay-in-School Family Resource Center this past December, enabling them to increase the number of hours they provide services. The center is open weekdays from nine to five.
The Stay-in-School Family Resource Center is a project of the San Francisco Urban Institute. The SFSU Foundation and Associated Student’s Inc. provide funding. The center is currently seeking additional funding to expand the services they provide.
Gaines has a big vision for the center. He wants to increase the number of services, but keep the grass-roots feel. Most of all, he wants to ensure that it remains run by student parents -- the ones who are most in touch with the needs of student parents and take advantage of the services.
“It’s just a matter of taking small steps and making sure the quality is here,” Gaines said.
With additional funding, he said he would like to set up a system in which students from the English and math programs tutor student parents on those skills. He would also like to get tutors for the children, so they too can improve their education.
“We’re not just helping this generation, but the next generations,” Gaines said. “We’re showing these (parent’s) kids the importance of education.”
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