Just before Christmas 2014, the Family Service Center was working with a little boy who was waiting on approval to be officially adopted, but the court date was getting pushed back. “His caseworker says he’d been practicing his new last name and writing it and was so excited,” says Christine Lindsey, executive director for the Family Service Center. “Our staff had to make some calls to find a judge willing to approve it right before Christmas, and he was able to be adopted in time for Christmas. The people I work with are just always willing to make sure the kids are getting the best that they can.”
The Family Service Center has a rich history in the Springfield community, dating back 152 years and in the form of a number of different groups that eventually merged to form the present-day agency. The center offers several programs under its umbrella of services, including a clinical department with counseling services, adoption services, the Tree of Wishes Christmas gift program at White Oaks Mall, and a foster care program that currently serves just over 100 children and is run in contract with the Department of Children and Family Services.
“Our mission is to improve lives of people in our community, especially those who need foster care, adoption services and that kind of support,” says Lindsey, who stepped into the role of director in September.
One of the major components of the Family Service Center is the Compass after-school program; each of the eight Springfield schools involved in the program has a different host site with “community partners” that help to fund that particular site. Director Molly Berendt originally created the program through her church, Douglas Avenue United Methodist, but the Family Service Center approached her about running it within the center, which means that Compass is now able to receive United Way funding.
“The point of Compass was to serve homeless students and meet their needs that weren’t currently being met,” Berendt says. “Schools refer the students to us, and students have to identify as homeless, or be at-risk, such as low-income and another criteria like having an incarcerated parent.”
Each of the Compass sites have similar components, such as homework help, life skills classes, dinner and transportation home. Compass relies almost completely on volunteers and takes no more than 30 students at each site.
“We strive to have small volunteer-to-student ratios so they can build relationships,” Berendt says. Typically it averages three-to-one, but she hopes to eventually see it at one-to-one.
And in addition to the after-school program during the school year, Compass also holds a summer program five days a week for five weeks at Ridgely Elementary School, where certified teachers are hired to work with the students. Mornings are focused on reading and math, and afternoons are spent on enrichment programs, field trips and guest visitors from the community.
“Our goal is to reduce that achievement gap that exists between our students and students who are higher income. We try to bring our students up to their grade level because that’s the only way they’ll be able to get out of the life (of homelessness) they’re in,” Berendt says. “If they can be reading at grade level in third grade, their odds of graduating high school are much higher, but without intervention, they may not make it through high school.
“That gap comes in the summer,” Berendt explains. “Summer is our big academic push, all designed to have the kids do better in school.”
Always the biggest need for all programs within Family Service Center is funding and volunteers, Lindsey says. She has high hopes of creating new programs directed toward building the life skills of the birth parents the center serves, as well as for the teens that soon will be aging out of the foster system.
Helping to make the counseling program more accessible and affordable is also important, Lindsey says.
“It’s an affordable way to get help before you need more assistance, to have someone give you resources or skills before you get into a terrible situation,” she says. “Counseling could prevent a situation where you hurt your child or become homeless.”
Though the Family Service Center often meets some desperate situations involving poverty, abuse and homelessness, its dedicated staff goes “above and beyond” to help every family, striving to carry out the mission of the center since its inception, Lindsey says.
“I’ve seen staff members here late into the evening because a foster child needs a new placement, and they’ll do whatever needs to be done to help,” she says. “The people who work here are truly the definition of helpers. The Family Service Center is a historical part of Springfield, and we’ve always had the same mission of being here to help the less fortunate. Those needs don’t go away.”
Family Service Center
Address: 730 E. Vine St.
Funding: Federal and state grants, United Way grants, contributions/donations and fundraisers
How to help:
Contact volunteer coordinator Shana Stine Waldinger at 528-8406. Current volunteer opportunities can be viewed at service2families.org/about/volunteer. Donations also are accepted online.