Tackling violence at the root | TheUnion.com

Tackling violence at the root

Three giggly babies bounced up and down on their moms’ laps Wednesday morning, gripping shiny plastic toys and colorful picture books in their pudgy fingers.

It’s a Baby and Me class at Hennessy School’s new Family Resource Center. But organizers see simple things like parenting classes as a vital step to intercept the seeds of loneliness, mental illness and violence before they germinate.

The class is a small part of the vast, federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, a program developed in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre Colorado in 1999 and a spate of other school shootings. Seeking answers for the violence, some people recommended metal detectors or campus guards.

The safe schools initiative sought to tackle the problem at the root.

“We want to promote resilience and self-esteem,” said Project Director Marina Bernheimer, who oversees the initiative in Nevada County. “We want to support kids and families.”

This fall, Nevada County is seeing the program’s fruit in the form of a $6 million Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant. The county was one of 29 grantees nationwide in 2009; 422 organizations applied.

“It was clear to the feds that we were poised to do the work,” Bernheimer said. “There’s already so much collaboration.”

Signs of the grant are cropping up after a year of planning. Three Family Resource Centers are up and running, offering a one-stop shop with a buffet of government and nonprofit social services.

In a green building tucked between Hennessy School and the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building, one room is a lab equipped with brand-new computers and a printer. A bookcase against the wall boasts a lending library that’s equal parts children’s books and job skills manuals.

Down the hall is a play room lined with rocking chairs and toys. Smaller, private rooms serve as offices for behavioral health specialists and substance abuse counselors who rotate among the three centers.

“The whole goal is getting people connected with existing services or new ones,” said Casey McCormick, who runs a newly-opened center at Ready Springs School in Penn Valley.

A third center is in North San Juan.

Many of the services offered at the family resource centers are already available – but they’re not easily accessible, and they’re not in the neighborhoods that need them most.

“We’re rather remotely located,” McCormick said. “With the cost of transportation being what it is, it adds up if you always have to drive to Grass Valley.”

With the family resource center model, visitors don’t feel as self-conscious as they might when walking up to a therapist’s office or a domestic violence organization.

While the grant is supporting everything from anti-bullying programs to early childhood therapy and a clothes closet, administrators say they lead up to a common goal: Alleviating the pressure and emotional pain that sometimes explodes into violence.

“The idea is to promote positive mental health in children and families – to help them deal with some stresses in their lives,” McCormick said. “Kids don’t have to bottle things up for years.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

What: $5.6 million grant ($1.4 million each year for four years)

Funded by: U.S. Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Justice

Awarded: Summer 2009; full implementation began summer 2010

Where: Nevada County was one of 29 counties nationwide to receive funding in the 2009 round of grants

Why: Promotes healthy childhood development, violence prevention, drug and alcohol use prevention

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