As agencies like Multi-CAP and Shawnee Hills have either cut their services or closed their doors in the past year, the Regional Family Resource Network survived a loss of state funds and has become a support system for other agencies.
The network, a three-county coalition serving Kanawha, Boone and Putnam Counties, matches up people who need health, educational and social services with dozens of agencies equipped to deal with those problems. It also identifies gaps in services and coordinates new community programs.
The group lost 20 percent of its primary funding from the Governor's Cabinet on Children and Families this year, forcing a cut to the central staff and a decrease in funds to each county.
The financial setback comes after the agency began work to deal with its "identity crisis," Executive Director Michele Baranaskas said.
"We're sort of a behind-the-scenes group," Baranaskas said. "We do what needs to be done and we don't make a fuss about it. But many people still don't know we're out here. FRN's all over the state are struggling to make people understand what we do and how valuable we are."
A board of directors consisting of service providers, community leaders, parents and students meets monthly to share information about programs and services that are available to combat social problems like underage drinking, domestic violence and inadequate health care.
The real work, board members say, goes on outside the meetings, when task teams work on projects to address focus issues like foster care, tobacco use, infant/toddler care and welfare reform.
Often, the task teams cross county lines to take a regional approach to the problems.
In January, the board decided it needed to include more diverse members of the community. The network now is working to recruit more representatives from the religious community, along with more educators and parents who often have a closer perspective on challenges facing individuals and families throughout the Kanawha Valley.
Letting the public know the Family Resource Network is a source of help has become more important as other service agencies face their own struggles with an unstable economy, board members said.
"Between Multi-CAP and Shawnee Hills, this community has taken a real hit service-wise," said Betty Ann Smith, representative for Family Service of Kanawha Valley.
One way the group has become more accessible to the community is with a recent move to the Schoenbaum Family Enrichment Center, located at 1701 Fifth Ave. on Charleston's West Side. The agency moved from One United Way Square in February to the family enrichment center, where the general community is more likely to take advantage of the network's services, Baranaskas said.
FamilyCare, LifeBridge Nonprofit Services, Parents as Teachers day care, Literacy Volunteers and other community service agencies also are located in the center, making it a "one stop shop" for people with health, educational and economic needs, Baranskas said.
The network not only acts as a referral service but also helps funnel government and grant funds to projects that might otherwise have a tough time getting off the ground, board members said.
A direct contribution from the network helped make possible a new playground at Sharon Dawes Elementary in Cabin Creek, which opened last month.
Cabin Creek parent and network representative Jessica Harbey said projects like the new playground often are overlooked by service agencies that have the resources to aid development in rural parts of the Kanawha Valley.
"There's not a whole lot out there in terms of resources for our community," Harbey said. "I didn't know this group even existed, and when I got involved I was amazed to find what all is available."
Harbey works with the Family Resource Network to distribute information about child care, education services and family health care to other parents in the Cabin Creek community.
Other network representatives, like Boone County high school student Bobby Williams, have used the Family Resource Network to gain attention and volunteer support for their own service ventures.
Williams leads the task force to enroll more Boone County students in the American Eagle Mentor program, a tutoring and mentoring program for students in grades K-12.
Writer Kris Wise can be reached at 348-1244.