By Sheri Gasser
Being a parent is challenging enough without having to worry about the basics. For some families, it can be a struggle to cover those basics that many take for granted — things like health care, housing, food and stable employment. Fortunately, there are services available for families in need and those services will soon be expanding to target Northside parents. A newly merged organization known as RISE is preparing to tackle some of the struggles many in our community face. Community Partnerships and Center for Families officially joined forces earlier this year to better serve the community and provide a more comprehensive range of services as RISE.
While the merger became official April 1, the idea and initial conversations started a year ago. With a series of existing partnerships, referrals and shared goals, the timing made even more sense due to the retirement of an executive. The new organization’s name and logo was chosen by staff through a facilitated collaborative process. “RISE speaks to both organizations,” said Executive Director Scott Strong. “Both, over history, have faced challenges we have overcome just like the families we help.”
The Center for Families operates out of its Fordem Avenue location, which also houses the Respite Center. According to Supervisor Fay McClurg, the Respite Center serves 800 children and 150 families a year. The Respite Center is a safe and soothing place for children from birth to age 15 and is equipped with a kitchen, playground and bedrooms that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a place meant to provide relief to stressed parents, it can enable a parent to make it to a job interview and can serve as a stopgap to further intervention, such as foster care. Respite services are available on a sliding fee scale, but no one is turned away for inability to pay.
Community Partnerships focuses on mental health and trauma care for children and young adults from birth to age 30. Comprehensive Community Services, one of their programs, provides a coordination of services for those with mental health or substance abuse issues in Dane County. Their mission is to coordinate a system of care to advance the mental health and wellness of individuals, families and communities. Some of their partner organizations include Dane County Department of Human Services, the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agency and the United Way.
In addition to the Respite Center and Comprehensive Community Services, RISE’s programs include Early Childhood Initiative, Welcome Baby, Parenting for School Success, Parent Child Home Program, Children Come First, court ordered evaluations and family and consumer advocacy.
According to Strong, many of these services are community-based and are provided in homes at times that are convenient for families. He adds that RISE’s employees use a strength-based perspective, where clients tell them what has worked for them and how they can build from there. Meeting people where they are, connecting families to other services and making referrals side-by-side helps ensure families get the assistance they need. Parents and children alike may have witnessed or experienced trauma in their lives, so services focus on both generations. Basic needs like food and housing come first, and once those are stabilized, more therapeutic needs can be addressed. Strong explained, “These services prevent a more restrictive placement, such as hospitalization and more intrusive services.”
In addition to the merger, there is a lot of excitement at RISE over a new initiative for a Northside Early Childhood Zone. Partnering with the Northside Planning Council and with funding from the Oscar Rennebohn Foundation, there will be an expansion of services in the Northside community. Courtesy of this foundation, there will be an investment of millions of dollars over the next eight years. Within Dane County, there are currently three other zones which serve Allied Drive, Leopold Way and Sun Prairie neighborhoods. According to Strong, Early Childhood Initiative and Welcome Baby will expand services to offer housing, education and employment assistance, which is everything a family needs to get a healthy start.
Expectant mothers and babies are already being referred into the program. The goal is to serve 70 families this year and expand over the next few years so everyone within the zone would have access. Currently, referrals are made by the Northside Navigators, an initiative of the Northside Planning Council. Assisting young parents in forming positive bonds with their little ones will help get the next generation off to a healthy start and better prepare them for school.
Helping families overcome adversity is what RISE does, Strong explained. “RISE strives to provide services in a way that is warm and welcoming.” RISE will provide information on their programs and guide any inquiry to the right person. “Even if we don’t provide a particular service,” Strong said, “we would always help them identify where they can go next.”
For more information, call 250-6634 or visit RISEwisconsin.org.