Family Support Network has been in the business of giving people a hand up, not just a hand out — and doing it in a friendly and welcoming manner for more than 15 years. Its focus is to be a resource for families in the community and to help ensure healthy lifestyles for children.
FSN offers about 12 different classes or groups per month and most meet weekly. There are also some new offerings slated for this year. Many people in the community are probably familiar with FSN’s car seat safety program or healthy birth prenatal classes, but it also offers safe driving classes for seniors, English and citizenship classes, safe babysitter classes, and other health and wellness related classes for everyone in the community.
“We’re here to see what our community needs and provide for that,” said FSN Executive Director Karen O’Bannon.
The programs and services that FSN offers fall under the categories of Parenting Education and Support Groups, Children’s Programs, Health and Safety Classes, and Healthworks.
The services are not strictly limited to people of certain income groups, or ethnic groups, or social groups. It serves more than 800 children and adults per month through its various programs but it has seen a recent shift in some of the families it serves. O’Bannon said that in the last couple of years, Family Support Network has been serving people who used to be donors but who are now coming in to receive services because of the challenging economy.
“I’m sure there are more people who could be helped by us that haven’t come in and I wish they would,” she said.
As the economy has changed, FSN has had to adapt as well. O’Bannon explained that FSN is not a stand alone non-profit — it’s part of the Oak Valley Hospital District — which has helped it to continue offering services when other non-profits are struggling to survive.
“To have a family resource center be part of a hospital is rather unique,” she said, adding that such programs are usually seen through foundations. “The hospital has supported us and they recognize value in what we provide to the community.”
She reported that funding came through for the center from members of the community around Christmas time that was both unexpected and needed. Unsolicited, people came in and wrote checks.
“There were so many families in need and people giving in different directions,” O’Bannon said regarding the end of the year.
The checks were welcome income for FSN because at the start of the fiscal year in July 2010, she was told that FSN was going to have to fund itself 100 percent. In the past, the funding for FSN was typically 75 percent from grants and 25 percent from the hospital.
O’Bannon said that she’s started fiscal years before not knowing where all the funding would come from but she’s an optimist and has always believed that it will work out.
“I have a strong faith and belief,” she said. “In 15 years, our needs have been met every year.”
She acknowledged that grants are extremely competitive, but the FSN “family” is thankful for what they do receive. Grants also come in at different times, and applying for grants and seeking out new ones is an ongoing process for FSN, she said. Like other organizations, FSN has also cut costs in various ways such as reducing their hours of operation and the staffers are part time employees. The center has an annual operating budget of $300,000 — that’s for eight employees and everything else they need to keep the operation running.
“We’re pretty good stewards of the dollar,” O’Bannon said.
She added that the resource center is also seeing donations in a variety of ways, such as local organizations holding fundraisers to benefit FSN. The resource center will also be doing some fundraising campaigns of its own in the community this year.
O’Bannon noted that everyone who works at FSN, including herself, has either been a volunteer or a program participant at the resource center. She added that they all have a vested interest and a belief in its services. For O’Bannon, it’s a natural fit as some of her life experiences have given her a passion for helping others. Because of the kindness of others when she was going through a difficult time, she knows what the ripple effect of helping one person has on the life of others. She said she feels blessed to have the job, which she says is her calling.
In 1993, Family Support Network found its beginnings through a grant that was received by Oak Valley Hospital from the Sierra Health Foundation where communities conducted parent focus groups in order to determine local needs. O’Bannon was “just a mom” who volunteered for a couple of years with the focus groups.
In 1996, Oak Valley Hospital hired O’Bannon to run the grant-funded FSN. Its first group was parent mentoring, where parents with older children served as mentors to parents with younger children. There came a time when FSN was no longer just a program that existed because a grant had been awarded that brought about its existence, it became a department at Oak Valley Hospital. It was able to grow further as it obtained other grant funding.
FSN moved into its current location on the corner of West F Street and Oak Avenue in October of 2001 and they had its first community open house in December of 2002.
There are a handful of new classes this year at FSN. One is a free monthly Arthritis and Autoimmune Diseases support group. Its first meeting will be on Jan. 31 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will meet on the last Monday of each month. Another new class is S.O.S.: Strategies of Success for Weight Loss, a six-week program held on Thursdays starting this month to help people adopt a healthy lifestyle and manage their weight. Another new offering is Kids Club, for children ages five to 10 years old, it has after school projects and meets twice monthly. There’s also 1-2-3 Learn With Me, in partnership with the Oakdale school district, which focuses on school readiness for children ages three to five years old. Another program, called Promotores, will launch this year, which is a grassroots approach to working with the gifts of members of the local Hispanic, Spanish-speaking community to help others in their community address barriers and bridge access to various health services.
Family Support Network also offers clothing and food assistance, health insurance application assistance, notary public, and resource and referral for housing assistance, childcare, counseling services, and social services.Most FSN classes are offered in English and Spanish. For more information, call FSN at 847-5121