Sunday, November 15, 2009

Give MN--Southside Family Nurturing Center

(Our lovely building--formerly a convent--has been recently renovated! It still has lots of charm and is so homey for the kids!)

From time to time, you may hear me make mention here about my day job as a social worker. I work for a wonderful nonprofit agency--Southside Family Nurturing Center. It's quite a special place--both for the families that it serves and the folks like me that work there. I'm not sure I could do this tough work at any other agency.

Southside  is a small but incredibly giving agency. Southside was one of the first therapeutic preschools in the state. For the past 35 years, Southside Family Nurturing Center has provided support, education and other resources to families in south Minneapolis who are at risk for abuse and neglect. 

Well, that's how we officially describe it. That doesn't come close to describing how Southside works with families. We welcome and nurture our families in so many ways. First off, we recognize that parenting is a hard job. When you are struggling with issues of poverty--as our families do--it makes the job that much harder. 

The children, ages 16 months to five years, attend classes in our toddler and preschool classes. We keep our classes small--10 toddlers per class and 14 preschoolers with 4 teachers in each classroom. Some of our kids have special needs. All of them need a little extra love to help them deal with the harshness they deal with at home. Kids shouldn't have such a hard start in life. And that's why our classrooms are so warm and are like a sponge, they soak up all the extra love they can! And current research is showing how important early education is for all children. It really makes a difference in these little lives!

Each family has a parent worker that works with them--that's my job.  For the most part, our families come to us volunteerily--wanting that extra support for raising their family. Most of them recognize that their own childhood was rough and that they want to parent their own children in a different way. So we visit the family in their home--providing parenting support and education. We also invite the whole family to our agency once a week to what we call "Family Day"--it's an opportunity for families to spend time together doing activities, meet with other parents, share a meal...During the holidays we hold special  events for our families--including an annual "holiday store" where families can "shop" for holiday gifts for their children.

(my hubby as Santa at Southside--with 2 staff children)

Don't let this mushy post fool you--this is hard work. I have had to report families when I suspect they are abusing or neglecting their children.  Every day I see families struggle with limited resources--and I feel like there is not enough I can do to help. But I see that they love their children and that they are trying to do things better. I know that the the work I have done with "my families" has had some impact. In return, "my families" have welcomed me into their homes and taught me about their culture and family traditions. I have watched so many lovely children grow up.

Working at Southside does not make you rich. The paycheck is simply not why anyone chooses to work at Southside. But I have been "paid" in many other ways. I have been at Southside since 1996 (except for  a short period in 2005-06 when I decided to venture off  to another agency).  First of all, working at Southside means something to me that is hard to express in words. Southside does this work the right way. Southside is caring, supportive and yes, nurturing to the families they serve and the staff that works for them. Even though the work is hard, laughter is heard everyday in this lovely old building.

So here comes the hard part--

Southside is funded in a variety of different ways. Private donations, grant money, United Way funds--all help keep us afloat. But at least 60% of our budget comes from our Hennepin County budget. Hennepin county contracts with Southside to provide the services that we do (If we weren't working with these high-risk families, it's likely that at some point the county would need to provide much costlier services to the families. We are a prevention program).

Southside received a letter from the county about a month ago stating that they are slashing our budget in 2010. In the first quarter, we are expecting only 50% of our normal budget allottment from the county. After that--??? We simply don't know if we will be funded. In the coming weeks, we will be submitting a new program proposal to the County. After 35 years of doing this work, we need to prove again that we can do this work. (Southside is not alone in this--8 other Family Focus programs are facing the same cuts).

Southside is fighting to stay alive. Staff have been told that regardless of what happens, layoffs are coming--and the first cut will be announced prior to the holidays. Believe me, it's a hard environment to face every day at work...not knowing if you will have a job. And not knowing if Southside will even be around in a year...I cannot fathom that.  

This is what I have been struggling with the last three weeks. I am writing this because that's how I process things, but also I know Southside can use the support wherever they can find it.

 So, this is how you can help (if you are willing and able):

  • Become a Southside Facebook fan. If you are on Facebook, become a fan at Center   This is a great way to show support and stay informed of what is happening.
  • Contact Hennepin County commissioners. Let them know how shortsighted it is to cut child abuse prevention programs such as Southside.
  • If you are so inclined, donate $$. I know finances are tough for everyone, but if you are donating to any nonprofits this year, a donation to Southside could make a huge difference. Even $5-10 can help (maybe skip that morning latte at the coffee shop). It's easy--you can go to our website or there is a new option--GiveMN. This is a new site created to make giving to Minnesota nonprofits easier. And if you donate on Tuesday, November 17th other foundations will make matching contributions! Visit this site to make a donation and to learn more about Southside (including a nice slideshow):  (If this link does not work, simply go to and enter--Southside Family Nurturing Center--to find our page)
  • You can also make a donation to the Holiday Store. We take donations of toys & gifts for children of all ages.  Families get to "shop" the Holiday Store to pick out gifts for their children.
Undoubtedly, I will be posting some updates here--like if I still have a job or I'm a true starving artist! Hopefully, good things will be happening soon!

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