Children and families in Oberlin no longer have to navigate the labyrinth of social services and agencies alone, hoping they have found all the help they need.
A more cohesive approach is coming to the city under a collaborative umbrella known as Oberlin Kids.
The community project is a joint endeavor of United Way of Greater Lorain County and 14 partner agencies working to provide free programs and services to children in the Oberlin school district. The goal is to find children before kindergarten and give them the tools they need to be ready for school and beyond.
“We’ve learned that starting at kindergarten is too late,” United Way Executive Director Bill Harper said. “Many of these children already need referrals for service or intervention by that time and have trouble getting back on track with their peers. Through this collaborative, we can reach out to the community to find the children and families who could benefit from some additional assistance to ensure that all children have the same chance at success.”
The nonprofit organization, which is coming off a banner fundraising year that brought in $3.051 million — the highest total in 11 years — is making a second attempt at a collaborative partnership. The United Community Assistance Network was announced in April as a project of 10 organizations — United Way, Catholic Charities, Lorain County Office on Aging, Neighborhood Alliance, North Ridgeville Community Care, Oberlin Community Services and the Salvation Army of Elyria, Lorain, Oberlin and Vermilion — that will provide year-round access to emergency financial assistance for rent, utility and other emergency basic needs for Lorain County residents.
“The community impact model is definitely something we are bringing from the worldwide organization of United Way, but in Lorain County we like to be out in front and trying to lead the charge,” said Ryan Aroney, the agency’s marketing and development director. “We don’t claim to do it alone, nor do we want to go it alone. We want to bring the people and organizations together to get things done.”
Oberlin Kids aims to bring public, private and nonprofit sectors together.
“Lorain County leaders are realizing that improving our communities takes more than just a one-shot program or project,” said Jenny Dodge, Child Care Resource Center executive director. “Those projects won’t make real community impact unless all community-based supports improve at the same time and with guided focus. No single organization, however innovative or powerful, could accomplish this alone.’’
In addition to the United Way, Oberlin Kids partners include Child Care Resource Center, the city of Oberlin, Kendal Early Learning Center, Lorain County Children and Family First Council, Lorain County Community Action Agency, Lorain County General Health District, Oberlin Business Partnership, Oberlin Schools, Oberlin College Bonner Center for Service and Learning, Oberlin Community Services, Oberlin Early Childhood Center, Oberlin Public Library and OhioGuidestone.
Aroney said the collaborative model could work in multiple communities in Lorain County, and the hope is to duplicate the program when possible. Oberlin was chosen to jumpstart things because they were ready, willing and many partner organizations were already in talks to partner there.
“We realize that in order to accomplish our goal, we need to have multiple partners working together to strengthen our community,” Oberlin City Manager Eric Norenberg said.
The Oberlin Early Childhood Center will be the lead agency, with the United Way providing funding, including for a position within the center. Community outreach will be necessary to snag the kids who are not in a traditional early education program. The goal for all kids will be the same — ensure basic needs are met, they are developmentally ready, have adequate support in place for them and their families and can participate with their families as they transition into kindergarten.
The first opportunity for the community to get involved with Oberlin Kids will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 14, at the Oberlin Juneteenth festival on Tappan Square. Oberlin Kids representatives will be available to meet families and answer questions.
Families who reside in Oberlin will be able to sign up with Oberlin Kids to obtain free resources including access to family events and play groups, health and nutrition resources and services, learning checkups for their child, referral support, books and more.
For more information, call (440) 277-6530 or visit www.oberlinkids.org and www.uwloraincounty.org.