Paulina Valdez folds recently donated clothing and blankets from two Kadlec Regional Medical Center nurses as she talks.
“The students can come in here any time of the day that they want to, usually during break time in the morning or after school, and they’re welcome to take whatever they want,” said Valdez, a Communities in Schools Benton-Franklin site coordinator. “No questions asked.”
Valdez’s office is in a portable building on the campus of Richland’s River’s Edge High School. Inside are an assortment of items, shelves of food, a rack of clothes and a station to make a peanut butter sandwich. On a board are folders with labels that include food banks, heating assistance and housing agencies.
Communities in Schools Benton-Franklin is expanding across the region, and connecting students and their families with community and government services, said Lupe Mares, the organization’s executive director.
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“It goes anywhere from basic needs to domestic violence information, or legal help ... support groups, foster care or cash assistance,” she said. “We’re always trying to connect with the community to see how they can make it easier to connect with our families.”
Valdez and River’s Edge Principal Dan Chubb said the site coordinators dedicate time to assisting families.
It goes anywhere from basic needs to domestic violence information, or legal help ... support groups, foster care or cash assistance. We’re always trying to connect with the community to see how they can make it easier to connect with our families.
Lupe Mares, Communities in Schools Benton-Franklin
“It’s not just a matter of giving the parents a flier,” he said. “Paulina has sat for hours with students and families waiting on hold to help get them signed up for benefits that they’re entitled to.”
Beyond linking students and their families with aid, Valdez said the organization can reach across school district borders to provide assistance.
For example, a large donation of child-sized clothing might not help Valdez’s high school students, but she can find a family in another school that would benefit.
The nonprofit started in Richland schools in 2014 after Erich Bolz, a former Richland assistant superintendent, discovered the national organization. What started as an idea to include four schools grew to 18 sites within two years.
The students can come in here any time of the day that they want to, usually during break time in the morning or after school, and they’re welcome to take whatever they want. No questions asked.
Paulina Valdez, a Communities in Schools Benton-Franklin site coordinator
The Benton and Franklin branch is the state’s newest and the fastest-growing, Mares said. Along with nine schools in Richland, it has opened seven offices in Kennewick schools, and recently added one in Pasco and another in Prosser.
Many of the students are from families of modest means, the organization said. In total, it served 4,738 at-risk students, with 474 receiving intensive, case-managed support.
Much of the nonprofit’s support comes from the school districts, but it does rely on fundraising efforts to supplement its income.
A Wine and Roses Friendraiser is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. April 13 at the Uptown Theatre, 1300 Jadwin Ave. The event will feature a silent auction, appetizers and wine. Tickets cost $25.
Tickets can be purchased online at bit.ly/WineandRoses.