Dana Jones knows the feeling of leaving for school on an empty stomach because there is no food to eat. She’s all too familiar with running on the playground with shoes that have holes.
Her family lives in poverty and frequently goes without food or essential hygiene products.
Finda Fallah is a school liaison for Communities in Schools (CIS) Indiana at Brook Park Elementary school, a Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township school where she helps students like Dana who face these challenges and many more.
Communities in Schools Indiana is a nonprofit that works with schools across the state, including 10 in the Lawrence district. It connects resources like food, clothing and counseling, life skills support and so much more to over 11,000 students in Lawrence district and 100,000 statewide.
Site coordinators such as Fallah work with school leadership, teachers, staff and community organizations to provide and connect students with academic assistance, behavioral intervention, family engagement, life and social skills, college and career preparation and basic needs such as food and clothing.
And when schools shut down last spring because of the pandemic, the organization continued to provide services to students in need, many of whom are part of families hit hard by the economic downturn.
When officials across the state were unable to reach students, who were supposed to transition to remote learning, CIS liaisons and coordinators went into the neighborhood knocking on doors for home visits.
At the beginning of a typical school year, coordinators and liaisons observe countless students needing the basics of food, clothes or counseling.
When schools resumed last month, another problem quickly emerged. Even though coordinators and liaisons connected students to food in school, many families didn’t have transportation to collect the meals.
CIS coordinators and liaisons deliver food, supplies and support to over 16,000 students — whether those students are in school buildings or learning virtually.
It is not so much a challenge to identify students who need help in schools. It becomes more difficult with virtual learning environments.
That’s where CIS of Indiana coordinators and liaisons use the meaningful relationships they establish with students to assist students in getting what they need to maintain a connection with schools and resources.
Communities in Schools relies on relationships built with over 195 community partners to meet the needs of students. Gleaners Food Bank is a strong partner within schools, assisting in establishing food pantries within schools to assist families with food insecurities.
Monetary donations have decreased due to the economic toll of the coronavirus, but we know the heart of our great city, who will continue to come together to provide the contributions we need to make a difference for our kids. By coming together, we can collectively do more.
Community members can donate to Communities in Schools Indiana here.
Darlene Vaughn is executive director of Communities in Schools Indiana.