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CFS Helps Ruskin's Parents Find Strengths in Their Community

Over the last month, in the midst of arranging her family's move to Philadelphia plus working with thirteen teenagers on an asset-mapping project, Marcela Gutierrez-Mayka took the time to tell us about a Rural Social Services Program (RSSP) project that will result in the first Family Resource Center in Hillsborough County that is not part of a school.

The RSSP, funded by the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, brings together a group of agencies interested in improving the quality of life of rural residents. "We've been working with the partnership for four years now, " said Marcela, who has represented the Department of Child and Family Studies (CFS). "We were able to share what has been learned at CFS from projects like the Casey Health Initiative and principles of CASSP (The Child and Adolescent Service System Program). This is a good example of how the University can contribute to community initiatives."

At RSSP meetings, the definition of family support changed as talk began about family resource centers which could be planned, run and organized by parents to provide access and natural supports. The RSSP team soon began to talk about how this idea could be realized in the traditionally under-served Ruskin community in Hillsborough County.

Maria Elena Orrego, an expert consultant in family involvement who Marcela met through the Annie E. Casey project, came for several meetings with both members of the RSSP and Ruskin parents. "When we met with parents, we asked what they would want from a family resource center, and what could they provide," explained Marcela.

One father said he could contribute by helping start a soccer league. Some mothers said they could cook, another man could provide mechanical help and carpentry work. Other offers poured in as well, including homework help, computer help, and childcare.

RSSP also provided a list of resources they could bring. Catholic Charities offered to fund a position for a family support specialist who will connect parents with the services offered by providers. "Everybody came up with a little bit of something they could do," said Marcela. "By the end of the first meeting, we saw that there was no reason why this couldn't happen."

"What we're doing now is totally backwards from the tradition," said Marcela. "We haven't created a program&endash;we responded to a need. We saw issues that were hot and made parents want to do something on their own. And that should be our job&endash;to look for sparks of anger and civic desire that impact kids, neighborhoods and communities. Once that is found, our job is to go in and ask what are you willing to do to achieve this and how can we help you achieve it?"

A planning committee, consisting of six parents and six providers has been developed, and space for the center has already been made available in a portable at the Ruskin Recreation Department that provides children's after school programs.

"It was incredible to see very traditional providers agree that 'wow, this is different, yet really exciting, and somewhat scary.' They couldn't believe the response from the parents. I am proud of the seed we helped plant for this Ruskin Family Resource Center and I am sorry I will not be here to see it grow," added Marcela.

The Department of Child and Family Studies (CFS) is a department of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, University of South Florida. The faculty and staff of CFS are committed to enhancing the development, mental health and well-being of children and families through leadership in integrating research, theory & practice.

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