Family Services Inc., Thriving Germantown Family Fair
I love when one good experience leads to another and that's exactly what happened with Family Services Inc. (FSI). I was first introduced to FSI while reviewing grant applications for the County Council Community Grants Advisory Group (GAG - project #30). FSI had submitted an application seeking support for its Thriving Germantown (TG) Community HUB program that works to promote an integrated response to the increasing economic and social disparities found in nearby Germantown, MD. What I learned about this one community in Germantown and the VERY special people and organizations who support it, made me want to work with FSI and meet other members of this special community...
Though Germantown is just a few miles north, I knew very little about it. I knew it hosted suburban sprawl, the well-known SoccerPlex, Sarah's physical therapist, and I knew it had a diverse demographic and a higher concentration of crime than where I lived. What I didn't know or appreciate was how fast the demographic had changed and how behind the resources were. Did you know that there is only one remaining trailer park in Montgomery County (Middlebrook) and that nearly 25% of the students at Captain James E. Daly Elementary School. live there? Residents in this trailer park community tend to live in overcrowded homes with huge extended families. Many are immigrant who don't speak english and who are often illiterate in their native language. These families are both unaware of how to access resources and are afraid to try as they live in fear of ICE raids and separation. In addition to this feeder area of Daly E.S., the others face great needs as well - food insecurity, employment opportunities, families traumatized by drug use, violence, and separation, etc. In fact, nearly 75% of Daly E.S. students come from low-income families. Seem dismal? Nope, thanks to the dedicated staff at Captain James E. Daly E.S. and community partners like Family Services Inc. "Hope Lives Here" and I was so happy to experience it first hand. (PLEASE READ Bethesda Magazine http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Magazine/November-December-2017/Hope-Lives-Here/ ) What TG is doing in this community to provide a coordinated, integrated, and complex approach to address economic and social needs is so valuable.
Today, FSI's TG program hosted it's first Family Fun Day & Health Fair on the grounds of Daly E.S. The fair hosted dozens of health-care vendors offering health screenings, products, and educational information. There were also tables for voter registration, legal assistance, food and social service providers, and other important community partners. There were even healthy low-cost cooking demonstrations in Manny - Manna's amazing mobile cooking school bus! Information and resources are lacking here; connections need to be made, services must be acquired, and the community must be educated. This is important!! And while parents were engaged in education and resources, kids were entertained by face painters, balloon makers, Manny, and a large moonbounce. There was a great lunch buffet as well manned by a team of friendly faces. My job was to help people navigate the fair by directing them to the auditorium for information or onto the field with entertainment and other vendors. Here's the frustrating part: the fair was not widely attended -- at least not during my 4-hour shift!
Though I certainly hope traffic increased after I left, it was hard to walk away knowing that the event didn't "max out" and that it may not have met expectations. I have no doubt personally, however, that this Family Fun Day was a success. This community hasn't always had the help it needs. Trust, uncertainty, and lack of experience may have been at play. Though robo-calls went out to school families, people may have not known what to expect and decided not to attend. For those who did attend, however, a plethora of support was at their fingertips and was sure to be helpful. Service providers were proactive, engaging, and responsive. FSI did a fabulous job recruiting the right vendors for a community it knows very well. The Director of TG, who was there with his family, and his staff could not have been more organized, engaged, or thoughtful. They were just as passionate and hardworking today as their grant application and GAG interview demonstrated. The extraordinary Principal of Daly Elementary who was rightly featured in Bethesda Magazine (see link above) and her staff were also hands-on, personable, and tried to drum up attendance with phone calls etc. Despite what might have been disappointing attendance (and I'm not sure event organizers would characterize it this way), this inaugural event will grow in time. Word will get out and the message will be hear. This event had "all the right bones". Kevin Costner knew "if you build it, they will come," but The Field of Dreams didn't happen overnight and I have no doubt that the next Family Fun Day & Health Fair will be a hit!
My Takeaways: (1) Good breeds good! My experience as a member of the Grants Advisory Group really exposed me to so many phenomenal nonprofits serving Montgomery County. I'm sure I could chose to follow each of the applicants I met and find more good like I did following up with FSI/TG today. Honestly, if you aren't hanging with quality people doing quality things regularly, follow me!! More often than not, I see good, I see hope, I see beauty, I see change! Come along, you will too! (2) Success needs to be measured in a variety of ways. For instance, if you only look at client attendance, this fair may fall short (though I still really hope more came after noon). If, however, you look at vendor or volunteer attendance -- the amount of people interested in serving this unique community -- it could have exceeded expectations. People aren't used to "getting" things, so I'm sure there could have been some skepticism. The good word will get out and next year will be amazing! (3) Daly Elementary School's principal Nora Dietz and her staff are a model for education, community organizing, and awareness; they are a model for civility! PLEASE READ Bethesda Magazine http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Magazine/November-December-2017/Hope-Lives-Here/ It will forever impact you. This community just a few miles up the road means so much more to me now. Once you learn something, you don't unlearn it. Once you see something, you can't unsee it. This community's story and people like Nora Deitz and organizations like FSI and programs such as TG, will stay with me (and me with them)!