The modest Ontario house that holds the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery is crammed, and that’s no exaggeration, with signs of learning and love.
In one room, boxes of teaching toys and materials, separated and labeled by age and gender, are stacked floor-to-ceiling next to a pair of paperwork-laden desk-work stations. In the kitchen, child-sized tables form an L-shape that dominates the floor space. Upstairs an attic area is transformed into a combined workroom-storehouse, with free-standing shelves of arts and crafts supplies, racks of used children’s clothing, and a wall-length row of boxed emergency goods – from boxed food to laundry soap – to patch families through times of extreme need.
The entrance area, once someone’s living room, is the “bear room” – doubling as reception and early intervention area, with a shelf full of teddy bears watching over the cubbies where children can claim a spot to hang their coats and keep their things.
While the cozy quarters are neat and scrupulously organized, they are cramped nonetheless.
After six years in this rented location, executive director Kathie Collins and her staff – nine full time employees, a part-time cook and two bus drivers – are looking forward to spreading out into larger quarters.
The Relief Nursery is scheduled to move in September to a building under construction just a little over a mile away, at 780 S.E. Sixth St.
The Nursery’s board of directors and civic supporters broke ground for the new building last November. Holcomb Construction is the contractor for the work.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.25 million, an effort that has already garnered $1,090,000 from private foundations as well as $75,000 raised locally via individual donations and fundraisers.
Collins says the new building will provide much needed space for the organization’s programs, which are in demand given that Malheur County is Oregon’s highest poverty county. The new building’s nearly 8,000 square feet dwarfs the current 2,317 square-foot space, with more classrooms, room for parent classes, storage, office space and an indoor play area where children can hone gross-motor skills and safely work off some steam.
The nonprofit Relief Nursery’s goal is to prevent child abuse and neglect by serving families dealing with extreme stress – poverty, hunger, loss of a parent, or other factors.
Through therapeutic classes and counseling, the Nursery helps children who are challenged by prolonged stress or trauma to develop social-emotional skills that will allow them to thrive. Experts say it’s critical to act early while the child’s brain is still developing, and 90 percent of that development occurs by age 6.
The organization’s website also notes that “Statistically, children under the age of 6 are at the greatest risk of abuse and neglect, especially when a family is in crisis.”
At its current site, the Relief Nursery can offer four class sessions, each able to enroll 12 children. Collins said there is a waiting list of 26 children.
In the new location, staff will have the luxury of being able to separate children based on age and development, creating classrooms specifically for 4- and 5-year-olds, 2- and 3-year-olds, and toddlers 18 months to 2 years of age. The additional space also will allow them to offer a respite session.
Most are self-referrals by a parent who isn’t sure how to cope with a child who’s excessively sad or has angry outbursts. Some may be referred by a pediatrician, the court system, clergy, or law enforcement.
In addition to working with the child, the program offers counseling and education for parents, who because they are focused on survival needs, may lack good parenting skills. The Relief Nursery staff networks with other agencies to get families the services they need.
Collins said while poverty is one factor putting families at risk, it often begets other factors. In fact, the Relief Nursery staff look at a list of 47 risk factors when they assess the needs in a home.
“If I’m living in poverty, working two shifts, don’t have a car, and something else happens – my choices are so limited,” Collins said. That’s when things can get out of control, opening the door for abuse or neglect.
Sometimes a simple thing like a bus pass can bridge that emergency and help stabilize the family situation. Other times, the need may be for more complex response.
Home visits assess the issues facing both child and parent, and counselors and interventionists can offer one-on-one advice.
The new building will offer more space not only for classes and counseling, but also for the monthly “Family Connection Events” which share parenting tips and skills and provide an opportunity for parents to bolster their support network. The topics may be as simple as cooking nutritious meals on a budget, or as complex as recognizing the signs when a sexual predator may be grooming a child.
Collins said addressing risk factors in the family can keep children from getting into trouble as they grow up and also keep them from perpetuating the cycles of adversity and abuse.
Collins said the investment by the community at this stage is well worth it.
“If we don’t invest in these little kids, we will all end up paying as taxpayers for years to come,” she said. “And it’s much more fun to buy blue crayons now, than to buy blue denim for the prison up on the hill.”
How to help
Here’s how people can help the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery:
• Donations of cash to the building fund.
• Consider donations of furnishings or other needs as they are identified by Relief Nursery.
• Attend the open house when the building is finished and learn more.
• Volunteer to help with the program. Registry background checks are required.
To learn more, or make a donation:
Visit: www.tvcrn.org or call 541-823-2526