Clients feel empowered when they can give back to an organization that helps them survive

The line snaked out into the parking lot of the dilapidated building at the middle school but Sandy swallowed and joined the group of 60 people.

She was unemployed after being laid off from a successful career as a sales manager for an electronics manufacturer and now her husband, a logger, was also unemployed and she needed help.

Once she walked through the doors of the Forest Grove Family Resource Center, she realized that people from all walks of life were there for the same purpose and she had come to the right place.

The Washington County Commission on Children and Families sponsors five family resource centers, serving children and families in all seven school districts in the county. Each FRC is staffed by a Coordinator.

Forest Grove Center Coordinator, Martha Ochoa, juggles multiple programs at the FRC and keeps them organized. She is helped by one staff member, Michael Bautista, who started volunteering at the Center when he was in the 7th grade.

In addition, approximately 20-35 volunteers per month help keep the Center running. The Forest Grove Family Resource Center operates through a Commission grant to the Forest Grove school district that subcontracts with the YMCA to coordinate day to day operations of the center.

The Center also serves the Gaston area and works closely with the Banks FRC Coordinator.

Center services include information and referrals (often using the 211 phone referral service), a food pantry for emergency food, a children's clothing resource, a monthly dental van, vision assistance, hygiene supplies, and adult education classes. Other groups also collaborate to conduct food drives and contribute help, including Northwest Children's Outreach Services, a Vision Service Plan funded by the YMCA, Medical Teams International, a food recovery program through Pacific University, and a Weekend Backpack Program.

In addition, an outreach worker helps eligible families complete applications for the Oregon Healthy Kids program for children's health coverage.

The coordinator also teaches in the evenings and on Saturdays at local schools. Her classes include literacy classes, an ESL class, and a citizenship class.

Parenting and children's behavior classes and support groups are also offered.

A Community Food Basket program in partnership with the Oregon Food Bank helps clients feel dignity while empowering them to make food choices for themselves.

Clients pay $15 per year, but those who cannot pay initially can receive a three-month 'loan' and pay it back later.

The food bank delivers food once a week on Thursdays; however, the delivery usually does not include fruit and vegetables so additional food is picked up from community businesses by volunteers.

Volunteers at the center are diverse. They include high school, Pacific University, and Portland State University students, retirees, other community members and clients.

For them, it is a way to help the community be healthy and thrive. Alan Roth got involved when his wife, Linda Quest, met Martha who asked for volunteers to pick up food from New Seasons. Linda drives to pick up the food and Alan provides the lifting.

Tony and Peggy Avignone are both disabled but give back to the community by volunteering for many groups. They deliver vegetables and other food picked up from a business on Thursdays and take extra cans of food back to their church, Forest Grove Foursquare, for distribution to approximately 25 families that come to that food pantry.

Client volunteers feel empowered when they can give back to an organization that helps them survive.

For example, Sandy Bufton picks up food from bakery outlets and she and Irma Hernandez help sort and display food items that come in.

Although Sandy has now been able to find full time work, she continues to pick up food at night and deliver it to the center. She is amazed that people using the center are proud, but like anyone else, they need help during difficult times. She knows first-hand that they do not abuse the services they receive and that they want to help others.

- Katie Riley is a member and past chair of the Washington County Commission on Children and Families. She lives in Hillsboro.

Learn More

The Forest Grove Family Resource Center serves more than 3,500 families per year. It is located at the back of Tom McCall Middle School at 1341 Pacific Avenue and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon - 4 p.m. For more information, call 503-359-2598. Information on the Washington County Commission on Children and Families is available at

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