BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Family Strengths Network may get its own thrift shop, possibly in White Rock, executive director Carie Fanning told local Kiwanis members Tuesday when she spoke during the club’s virtual meeting.
Fanning said someone has approached the FSN board who is interested in creating a thrift shop that would support FSN.
“I am very excited about this because it would be a foundational piece of income for FSN. We will be looking for some seed money to hopefully get that going so hopefully FSN will know that they can stand on their own two feet when there are some funding inconsistencies,” she said.
Fanning noted the longstanding foundational dollars FSN receives from Kiwanis. She explained that FSN has been around since 1989 when it was started with some local women concerned about child abuse and that in the mid-90s, that morphed into a family resource center.
“A family resource center is a community resource center that can work in several different ways but the way that FSN works is we have a space, (which sadly we’re not able to use right now because of COVID) where families can gather, particularly with young children,” Fanning said.” If you came to FSN, what you would see is a living room setting. There‘s a big beautiful couch that Dell Foundation helped us purchase in a U shape where parents can hang out and connect with each other and there’s a play are where kids can socialize and make connections.”
She said a lot of times she feels like she’s telling people about “play”, which doesn’t necessarily seem important, but is very vital in the community. She recalled coming to Los Alamos in the early 90s. Although she had moved all over growing up and knew how to meet and connect with people, she had two small children in tow in a somewhat hard community to make connections in.
“That was hard as a young mom – to not meet people or have friends, and not be able to bounce things off someone like how my child was acting or not sleeping or whatever issues you’re having with your kids and you’re trying to learn about. Because Los Alamos is such a transient community, that’s ongoing,” Fanning said.
She said Los Alamos has new families arriving all the time.
“Often it’s one spouse or the other that has a job at the Laboratory and the other one is trying to figure out how they fit in here. So Family Strengths Network’s resource center opens up a space for people to come and connect and meet people and become rooted in our community which is what we really want to happen,” Fanning said.
Apart from a space to hang out, FSN has support groups for parents of young children and grandparents raising grandchildren as well as parent education, parenting classes, parent bonding type programs that happen onsite when we’re open, like Toddler Tunes, or crafting opportunities, she said. Pre-COVID, all those activities took place in the FSN classroom which on any given day might have three or four different activities scheduled.
The resource center is located on Orange Street behind the Los Alamos High School in a building Fanning said many people will know as L Wing or the former home of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center.
“If you’ve lived here a long time, it may have been the building where you took Spanish or maybe had kindergarten. It has a lot of history. Previously we were in the Pueblo Complex but when PEEC moved we worked a deal with Los Alamos Public Schools to move into that property because it’s much more conducive to families and kids having the outdoor space,” Fanning said.
The resource also houses some popular libraries including a toy lending library that is used by families with young children and also by grandparents who check out items needed when visitors come to town that can be returned when the visitors return home so that they don’t have keep them on hand.
Although some adjustments have had to be made, two of the libraries have continued to offer services depending on whatever state mandate is in effect at any given moment, Fanning said.
“Sometimes one person at a time can come in to browse and check out things, or it can be us working with someone to put together a kit of toys and resource books or whatever it was they needed and making those available curbside,” she said.
In addition FSN has started an educational resource library which began with some big donations of curriculum materials. The new library is geared specifically for parents who are now faced with teaching their kids from home, Fanning said, and helps people who are doing virtual school with LAPS.
“We also we know that a lot of people have moved to homeschooling this year until things get things get figured out and they can go back to school in person,” she said.
The toy library has actually expanded to provide items for kids from toddlers to ages 7-8. It also includes items such as pack n’ plays, high chairs, umbrella strollers, bouncy seats, jungle gyms that can be borrowed. All the toys are educational and are based on fine and gross motor skills and the toy librarian works with the schools to include toys that would possibly be used in a treatment plan for a child with some special needs so that parents can check them out and not have to purchase them, Fanning said.
“Currently the toy library is funded by LAPS so there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure that what is available is really appropriate,” she said.
Fanning said FSN is concerned about the effects of COVID-19 on its operation.
“If I’m really honest about it, we’re concerned because it’s important that our young mothers in particular are not isolated and we know they are isolated right now because they can’t come and have those connections,” she said.
FSN has been able to convert most of its programming to a virtual format, even compiling kits for crafts and other activities that parents can pick up with no contact and then follow a video or virtual meeting at home with others. Parenting classes are being offered online as well as beginning English classes.
“We have a lot of grandparents who live here to help take care of their grandchildren who are from other countries and there’s a real need for them to be able to get some beginning English classes but it’s hard to do that when you’re watching kids. By moving the classes to an online platform, we were able to do that,” Fanning said. “There are a lot of things we learned this year that when we go back to normal we will continue to employ in our overall structure of how we run our programs.”
Fanning said FSN is funded in multiple ways but the two main sources are Los Alamos County and United Way. In addition, some service organizations in the community fund specific aspects of programming and there are a few businesses in town that contribute each year,
“We try really hard to braid our funding so that we can be stable. What we didn’t anticipate was that we would have trouble with County funding this year. Last January, a request for proposals was put out by the County for the types of services Family Strengths Networks provides. We were due to renew funding with the County. Proposals were received from two organizations and the County awarded those dollars to another organization,” she said. “At the time, we felt like there were some missteps in the process of the RFP as well as a misunderstanding from the County as to the services FSN provides. We took that information to the County Council and were able with the help of lots of conversation with County councilors.”
Fanning said it really touched her heart to hear all the support presented during public comment from people stating why the program was valuable to them.
“All of it was positive and it influenced the County to go back and look at what had been done. Long story short, Las Cumbres, the other organization that had received the funding offers amazing types of services but they’re not the same services as FSN. They are actually compatible services so we were able to work with the County to go back and scrap the first RFP. They created an RFP for prevention services and one for intervention services and released those to the public in November. As of the end of December, FSN received the prevention contract and Las Cumbres received the funding for intervention services for two years,” she said.
In the meantime, the County worked out a purchase order with FSN from the beginning of the fiscal year July 1 through December 31, 2020 until they were able to make things right with the funding, Fanning said.
“We were very pleased with the outcome. Honestly I’m not going to say there weren’t more months of stress trying to figure it out but we do feel everyone was professional and reasonable and we were able to work towards a solution,” Fanning said,
One of FSN’s roles as a resource center is to interact and network with multiple service agencies and organizations to help people get the resources they need and Fanning has worked hard to establish connections and collaboration with Los Alamos JJAB, First Born, LAPS and others. She is also chair of BabyNet, a subcommittee of the Los Alamos Health Council.