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Family services collaborative at work in area schools

The range of duties for the Crow Wing County Family Services Collaborative is extensive.

Whether they’re finding a student a new pair of shoes, providing a family with food assistance or helping a student talk through a fight at home, the collaborative is at work in area schools to help students and families in need.

Simply put, the Crow Wing County Family Services Collaborative helps provide resources to families in need. If they don’t have the solution to a student’s or family’s problem, they link them with other area groups that can help. The family services collaborative team connects with local agencies like Bridges of Hope, Lutheran Social Services, Northern Pines, the Salvation Army and more.

“If we don’t have answers, we can find them,” said Amanda Kennedy, a collaborative team member. “The main goal is to help families and students.”

Inside the collaborative’s offices at Pequot Lakes High School are shoes, clothes, prom dresses and school supplies, all donations, for students who need them. If a staff member sees a student who needs new shoes, they provide them.

Kennedy works at Pequot Lakes High School and Middle Level. She spent one morning talking with a student who had been fighting with her mom and wasn’t ready to go to class.

“We’re a safe person they can go to,” Kennedy said. “It’s all confidential unless there’s a mandated report to be made.”

Charlotte Stokes, collaborative coordinator, said the family services collaborative runs off grants, and though “Crow Wing County” is in the name, the collaborative is not a county-run entity. It receives some federal and state funding, and uses the National Joint Powers Alliance, an education service agency, as its fiscal manager.

The collaborative helps students who might otherwise fall through the cracks. If a student is filtered out of child protective services, he or she can still get help from the collaborative. They also help students facing a special education assessment.

“Our goal is not to stop it,” Stokes said of a special education assessment, but she said if the collaborative can offer help to prevent a special education assessment, it will provide that help.

Lori Schmandt is a collaborative team member who works part of the week at Pequot Lakes High School and part of the week at Nisswa Elementary School. When she’s at the elementary level, she helps students with coping and friendship skills. She also helps parents with parenting skills, or connects them with needs like donated clothing or food.

The collaborative also deals with truancy cases. For some students with attendance issues, they’ll ask that the student stop by there before heading home from school, so the student knows collaborative members care that they came to school that day.

Other times, attendance issues come down to something like the need for an alarm clock, Stokes said. The collaborative can provide that alarm clock.

In the summer, the collaborative uses grants to send kids to camp whom otherwise might not get the opportunity. For example, the collaborative is involved in Camp Journey, a summer camp for students working through grief.

They also run summer activities, where they meet kids in a park twice a week for games, crafts and a snack. Kennedy said it gives the collaborative a chance to check in with families and students it helps during the school year, and gets students out of the house when they might not otherwise have an opportunity.

The collaborative will also make home visits and help with transportation, if needed.

In all, the collaborative has 13 members across the county, operating in the Brainerd and Crosby-Ironton school districts as well as Pequot Lakes. It serves 1,100-1,200 families a year. The service is free and voluntary; no one is required to participate and no one is charged to participate.

“The service team does a phenomenal job,” Stokes said of her team. “If there’s a need, we put it out to each other and that need is met.”