Jenny Barrett, coordinator for Owsley County High School Youth Services Center, served by Jackson Energy Cooperative, noticed a student had grown increasingly withdrawn. The girl was quiet in class and didn’t seem to eat much at lunch.
Talking to her, Barrett discovered the student’s two front teeth had broken and other teeth had eroded with decay. She was in pain, but tried not to show it. Her mother was unable to transport her or pay for dental work. With the help of a regional dentist, Barrett was able to take steps to get the student’s smile—and her confidence—restored. The student hopes to go to cosmetology school and make others feel beautiful, too.
Across Kentucky, public school family resource and youth services centers (FRYSCs) are helping students succeed by removing barriers that hamper them, just as Barrett’s center did.
Those barriers range from financial to physical and everything in between, reaching out not only to the students but to their families.
Jenny Barrett, youth services center coordinator at Owsley County High School, stuffs food bags for students in need.
Photo: Jenny Barrett
Meeting diverse needs
Laura Shelton, coordinator of the Horizon Youth Services Center serving Trigg County middle and high schools, served by Pennyrile Electric, learned about a family who needed assistance. With help from a generous donor, Horizon was able to pay a past-due electric bill in full.
On a follow-up home visit, Shelton saw that family members were sleeping on air mattresses that deflated overnight and were keeping clothing in plastic totes. A community foundation provided the family with mattresses, bedding, dressers and a new kitchen table. When Shelton showed the mother pictures of the new furniture options, she was filled with gratitude—it was the first new furniture they had ever had.
“FRYSCs connect hard-working families to the resources they need, and our communities and students become stronger. The blessing is just as much mine as theirs,” Shelton says.
In Anderson County, a Saffell Street Elementary School student with a difficult home situation was struggling with attendance. Crystal Crouch, the school’s family resource center coordinator, began mentoring the student, providing daily check-ins and encouragement. The student transformed from truant to motivated, made the honor roll and was voted the school’s Citizen of the Month.
A nurse practitioner at a Henderson County urgent care center gave Melissa Walker, family resource center coordinator at East Heights Elementary, an unexpected testimonial when Walker showed up for an appointment.
“You took care of me. Look at me— now I can take care of you!” the nurse practitioner told her. She explained that seven years prior, Walker had provided her and her children services through the local school resource center. Even though the family changed school districts, the services continued and gave this single mother the ability to finish her first degree. In fact, she had gone on to earn three degrees.
There are 5.9 million more of these kinds of stories—that’s how many student and family contacts the centers reported last year— springing from the 856 centers serving 1,200 schools.
How they began
FRYSCs were established as part of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. They are under the umbrella of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The idea was that if students’ non-educational needs were alleviated, they would be better able to make academic progress. FRYSCs evaluate needs and meet them in a coordinated, safe way— from basic needs like shelter, food and clothing to social and psychological needs that may be referred to health care providers.
are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch qualify for a resource center.
State government’s education budget provides the primary funding for FRYSCs, which also work with already-established resources as much as possible. To meet more needs, coordinators apply for grants and receive donations from foundations, churches, clubs and individuals.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, FRYSC coordinators became first responders of sorts, using creative methods to distribute supplies and encourage students. A 2020 report by the state Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers notes that coordinators arranged for 49,000 home visits during school closures from March–June that year, delivering food, household supplies and schoolwork packages.
The centers have seen an increase in food insecurity and need for help with bills. Further, as students return to in-person classes, “it is apparent that many of them are now behind academically,” and will need more help, Shelton says. Many students feel overwhelmed because of the long period of stress, isolation and virtual work, she adds, and she expects to see an increase in students needing mental health services. Owsley County’s Barrett explains that in some areas of the state, students got out very little during shutdowns, and their FRYSC coordinator was a primary source of social interaction.
The work continues as the centers try to help students re-establish routines and find their strengths as a new school year begins. “Kids need support and patience from their fellow Kentuckians,” says Lori Honshell, family resource coordinator at Simpson Elementary School. Shelton agrees, “Students need mental health support and academic enrichment to help them feel confident and capable again.”
FRYSCs welcome community and individual involvement, and Honshell suggests people can contact local coordinators for ways to help. It’s part of the official FRYSC motto, she adds: “Whatever it takes.”
Ask your FRYSC coordinator
If you’d like to help your local family resource and youth services centers, just ask their coordinators what supplies and support are most needed by students in your area.
You can help individually or partner with your workplace, church or neighborhood to donate toward student needs. Here are some ideas from FRYSCs across the state:
- Clean, new or gently used clothing, undergarments and socks.
- New backpacks.
- School supplies: pencils, pens, erasers, glue sticks, markers, folders, notebooks, etc.
- Board games.
- Simple activities: play dough, balls, sidewalk chalk, coloring books and crayons.
- Gift cards to grocery stores.
- Donations to help with utilities assistance. Working alongside an organization to host a build-a-bed day.
Required core components
For family resource centers:
- Full-time preschool care for 2- to 3-year-olds.
- After-school childcare from children 4–12, with full-time care during summer and when school is not in session.
- Families in Training, which includes home visits, group meetings and monitoring child development for new and expectant parents.
- Family literacy services for parents and children to learn together and to promote lifelong learning.
- Health services or referrals, or both.
For youth services centers:
- Referrals to health and social services.
- Career exploration and development.
- Summer and part-time job development for high school students.
- Substance abuse education and counseling.
- Family crisis and mental health counseling.
- Where the two types of centers are combined, core components for each are addressed.