When a fire destroyed the portable classroom that housed the Family Connections site on the Belle Haven School campus last August, many wondered if that location, which serves the surrounding east Menlo Park neighborhood, could possibly reopen when the regular school term began in September. But thanks to community support and a dose of “can do” attitude, indeed it did, moving into the adjacent Belle Haven Family Resource Center.
“It looks like we’ll remain here, and the next step is to transform the outdoor space,” says Family Connections Executive Direction Renee Zimmerman (right) , standing on the porch of the new location.
Family Connections, which opened in 1993, is a tuition-free parent participation (co-op) preschool for low-income families. It currently serves 150 families (about 400 individuals) at three San Mateo County locations — East Palo Alto and Redwood City in addition to east Menlo Park.
Its program is unique in that the focus is on educating both children — infants up to five — and parents. The parents commit to not only helping in the classroom but also attend weekly parent-education workshops, learning leadership and life skills.
“Like all parents, they want what is best for their child,” says Renee. “We help reduce stress and risk factors and work on closing the opportunity gap so that by the time the children enter kindergarten, they are ready to learn.”
Parent education also contains a strong ESL component. (Interestingly, most children come to Family Connections speaking only the language native to their mostly-Spanish speaking households; they all leave speaking English as well.) Another non-parenting skill taught is fundraising. “It’s not only important for our work here, but our parents’ children attend Belle Haven School, where it’s also important.”
Their new skills are being put to use in the preschool’s inaugural Night of Dreams event on October. 25. “We have one parent who will be giving a testimonial — it will be her first time ever speaking before an audience — and several parents are contributing quotes about their ‘dreams for their children,'” says Renee.
The fundraising event will honor three important supporters: Alisa Green MacAvoy for outstanding volunteer, Little Hands for outstanding community partner, and The Intero Foundation for outstanding funder. Tickets are available online.
In addition to making the Night of Dreams a success, Renee’s wish list is largely people oriented: “We couldn’t do the work we do without volunteers, so we’re also looking for more people to help out in the classroom. And it would be great to increase awareness about our work in the Menlo Park business community.”