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Metropolitan Family Service changes lives

Beatriz Rendon Bautista, a freshman nursing major at Linfield College, says she never would have made it to college if it hadn’t been for Metropolitan Family Service and her mentor, Ben Baldizon.

“I am the first in my family to graduate from high school and the first to attend college,” she says.

Born in Ensenada, Mexico, Bautista started school in Rockwood speaking almost no English.

“School was hard for me. My parents couldn’t help me because they didn’t speak English either.”CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: METROPOLITAN FAMILY SERVICE - Beatriz Rendon Bautista tells a gathering of Metropolitan Family Service supporters how the agency changed her life.

A bilingual teacher helped her and she benefited from the SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) program at Davis Elementary School. At Reynolds Middle School, she met Baldizon a social services worker for Metropolitan Family Service.

“He helped me academically. I learned leadership and public speaking,” she says. “He was someone I could go to.” The family also visited the Reynolds Middle School food pantry when their food ran low.

There are many success stories like Bautista’s, all a result of the 65 years of social services provided by Metropolitan Family Service.

At first glance, Metropolitan Family Service seems like an odd mishmash of unrelated social service efforts. The nonprofit organization “helps people overcome the barriers of poverty, inequality and social isolation,” says chief executive officer Judy Strand.

But, it’s not such a mishmash.

Strand says all of MFS’s work falls snugly into three categories.

n First, MFS is “strengthening early childhood development and building youth success,” she says.

n Second, MFS works to develop and promote community-based health and wellness.

n Lastly, it strives to advance individual and family economic well-being.

Under this umbrella, MFS offers 10 programs with more than 400 partners. MFS does everything from making car loans, to driving folks to medical appointments, to tutoring children to presenting healthy cooking classes for busy working families. MFS is headquartered at 1808 S.E. Belmont St., Portland.

Shining light on education

One of the most visible — and consequential — things MFS does in East County is run the SUN Community Schools program. SUN Schools are available at low-income schools in five districts in Multnomah County: Centennial, Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds, Parkrose and David Douglas.

SUN Schools, funded by the county, are full-service neighborhood hubs striving to ensure kids and families have what they need to be successful in school and in life.

“They are fantastic partners in a lot of ways,” says Sam Bryer, superintendent of Centennial Schools. “(MFS) is a resource multiplier for us.”

“The number of SUN Schools has just gone up and up and up,” says Amy Corbett, MFS’s chief program officer. The most recent addition is Salish Ponds Elementary in the Reynolds district, which started offering after school programs to students in January.

The SUN schools’ best known service is the after school classes and programs. The after-school offerings are unique to each school, but all offer academic support. Most also offer an afternoon snack and dinner.

Through SUN, adults can learn community gardening, English as a second language, parenting skills and tips, financial literacy and more. MFS’s SUN also hosts community events such as resource fairs, movie nights and cultural celebrations.

SUN has established food pantries at seven schools, most recently Glenfair Elementary School in the Reynolds District. MFS put a washer and dryer in Reynolds Middle School for kids to wash their clothing, if needed. Salish Ponds’ SUN has a clothing closet for kids who need school clothes and a small stash of food for families who are hungry, Katie Ochs, Salish Ponds SUN coordinator says.

SUN schools also connect families with other community resources they might need, such as health care or housing or utility assistance.

SUN’s events reflect the rich diversity of East County. A few weeks ago the Lynch Wood SUN program celebrated Zomi Man Ni, the national day of the Zomi people. The Zomi, are a group of tribal peoples in northeastern parts of India, northwestern Burma and the Chittagong Hill area of Bangladesh. The Lynch Wood festival featured traditional dances, entertainment and food.

The SUN programs make a difference. In Reynolds School District, at Hartley Elementary, teachers report 83 percent of the SUN students increased reading test scores and 96 percent bettered their scores in math.

They also report that 78 percent of the SUN kids came to school more motivated to learn. To fight summertime learning loss, Hartley’s SUN summertime programs include four weeks of academic and enrichment activities, field trips and movies.

“I’m not sure where we’d be without them,” says Hartley Principal Larry Conley. “They enrich everything we do.”

Beyond the SUN

MFS has several programs for getting kids ready for kindergarten. And, it also runs a program to get families to register their kids for school by June. “Some families don’t know that you need to register for school,” Strand says.

MFS is looking to expand a statewide program called Individual Development Accounts. IDAs allow low-income people to set a savings plan and goal for a specific purpose — say, saving for college — and if the plan is completed and goal met, the state triples the money.

MFS also administers the local AARP Experience Corps., which puts volunteers 50 years old and older into elementary schools to help children in kindergarten through third grade gain literacy skills.

Project Linkage helps older and disabled adults by linking them to in-home visitors, support and transportation. Linkage is transporting 40 dialysis patients to their treatments.

Linfield Nursing student Bautista says her sister is going through the SUN program now, and she can see the changes in her, too. The changes are subtle and gradual and the result of many small experiences.

“For example, she says, “Ben taught me Excel. It was not a big deal. But, Excel has helped me so much. It is really so many little things that helped me and it just added up.”

Strand loves these MFS successes.

Riffing on the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, Strand says, “our village is very busy.”

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