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Organization of the month: Alpine Family Support Council reaches out

by Nancy Hamlett

The Alpine Family Support Council has administered programs for children and families in the California county for many years. However, with recent changes and far reaching goals, the council promises to broaden the scope and improve the effectiveness of its programs for the 1,200 people living in the county.

Formed when the California Legislature passed AB 1733 in the 1980s, the Family Support Council serves as an advisory body to the county’s board of supervisors in determining how child abuse prevention monies are spent. The council is made up of department heads from law enforcement, social services and mental health, plus two at-large positions recruited from the general population.

Once the board of supervisors’ decisions are made, it is up to the Family Support Council to administer the money that comes in from the state.

Director of Health and Human Services Kathy Kerr has chaired the Family Support Council for four years. She said that the main objective of the council is to aid children and families in abusive or neglect situations.

“There are several different vehicles already in place in Alpine County for providing these types of support, but we have barely scratched the surface of what is available,” said Kerr. “We’re dedicating this year to a growth year, to determine what programs will work best for us and then finding funding to pay for them.”

Kerr said that hiring Cheri Warrell as Family Support’s director was the first step in implementing the changes. Warrell comes with past experience as assistant director of Douglas County’s Family Support Council and is an experienced grant writer.

“Family Support Council has applied for non-profit status, which will enable us to qualify for more grants in education and training,” said Warrell. “This will allow us to expand programs already in place and bring in different types of programs that will allow us to reach more people in the county.”

Another change will be the council’s structure by including more parents in the decision-making process by rescheduling meetings to 5:30 p.m. and providing child care at the meetings.

“If we propose to strengthen the family, we have to listen to what parents have to say,” said Warrell. “They are the experts the nuts and bolts community members that know what they need.”

The number one problem affecting children and families in Alpine County is drug and alcohol abuse. Several programs, some funded through child abuse program funds and others strictly overseen by the council, teach children and families that tobacco, alcohol and drugs are not necessary for having a good time.

“We had a Christmas party at Turtle Rock this year that was tobacco- and alcohol-free,” said Edie Veatch, a volunteer who coordinates Alpine Kids and the Alpine Children’s Center. “We try to be creative and reach families in different ways. Through Alpine Kids, we offer peer group meetings and monthly outings, activities for the whole family to be involved.”

Recently, the council expanded services to Bear Valley, an isolated community in the winter when Ebbetts Pass is closed.

“Transportation is one of the key issues we will be addressing this year,” said Kerr. “Whether you live in Bear Valley or another part of the county, unless you have a car, you can’t utilize all of the programs.”

Jo Daugherty has actively worked with family support for 14 years. After AB 1733 passed, she attended a meeting of county department heads and interested people to brainstorm what to do with the money allocated to them.

“The first thing we recommended is that we hire another social worker,” said Daugherty. “The next thing we did was form a clothing bank. It was run with all volunteers, and any item cost 10 cents, just enough to pay for washing the clothes.”

Money from the clothing bank funded the first year’s food and toy drive.

“This year we were able to give a Christmas to 85 children in 60 homes,” said Warrell. “We had a lot of help this year with Douglas High School and Douglas Disposal donating heavily.”

With monetary donations and discounts from Albertson’s and Kmart in Carson City, Warrell was able to stretch the dollars even further.

“We had more fun. And it was especially rewarding to find the right toy that the child wanted,” said Warrell.

The excitement at family support about the coming year’s plans is infectious. However proud it is of its accomplishments, the Family Support Council and its volunteers are ready to do even more to strengthen the family unit.

“With recent changes to our structuring and funding, things are going to happen here within the next two years that are going to blow people away,” said Kerr. “I can’t wait to see them happen.”