Under the direction of Terry Mason, Director of Children’s House and the Children’s House board, the Orcas Island Family Resource Center (OIFRC) was established to respond to ongoing needs among the families served by all the preschools. The desire was to increase parenting skills and supports to improve the outcomes for our young families.
Initially, OIFRC was housed upstairs in the Children’s House building. Later it moved to the building that is now the Children’s House administration and toddler center. This structure was built using a Community Development Block Grant that Terry Mason secured.
OIFRC was the first Resource Center in the County, and it administered the following programs:
Terry Mason left her position as director of Children’s House, and there was a shift on the board which resulted in a new understanding that the Resource Center represented a drift away from their primary mission of early childhood education. At the same time, Barbara Kline, then principal of the Orcas Island High School, invited Eden Bailey to move the Readiness to Learn program to the school district. The Orcas Island Family Resource Center was disbanded. The Funhouse took on the mentoring programs, OPAL assumed the rental and energy assistance/weatherization programs, and the County Health Nurse filled in through the WIC program for some of the Birth to Three visits.
Even though it eventually failed, OIFRC was the trendsetter in San Juan County; the Lopez Resource Center was founded in 1997 and San Juan followed in 1998. The County and State began to see these resource centers as the best conduit to coordinate and deliver services on each island, and eventually added more programs to the list that they could administer.
As their responsibilities grew within the County, so did the need to understand responsibilities and foster collaborations, which inspired a countywide Community Network. With San Juan FRC director Joyce Sobel at the helm, the Network met quarterly, and all safety net programs were invited to participate (Readiness to Learn, Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), Primary Intervention Program (PIP), County Health, as well as the Family Resource Centers). The coalition was able to gather data from across the county on specific community health indicators.
One alarming finding was that after the Orcas Family Resource Center disbanded, there was a noticeable rise in Child Protective Services calls for neglect and abuse involving Orcas families, while the incident rate was decreasing on the other islands in the County. The Network agreed to prioritize support for the Orcas community to address this issue.
The preschools on Orcas once again took an advocacy stance for families in need and formed the Orcas Early Child Consortium. They hired a temporary person who stayed one year and when the position reopened, Erin O’Dell was hired on a very part-time basis to act as a safety net navigator for families served by all four local preschools.
If a family was falling through the cracks, they could reach out to Erin for assistance. Erin’s command of the Spanish language helped connect many of the Latinx population to the preschools and other supports as well, and a bridge that had been sorely needed was built.
The program gained its own 501(c)(3) status, developed an expanded mission statement and began providing direct services in addition to resource referrals. They also changed the name to Orcas Family Connections (OFC). With this change, they expanded their scope of services beyond the birth to five families and began serving the entire community.
Kaleidoscope added a room to its facility to house OFC free of rent and utilities. By then, Erin was working 20 hours per week and OFC was administering programs for the State, County, and Opportunity Council, including Weatherization, Medicaid Transportation, County Transportation, Food Stamps, Energy Assistance and a Mental Health voucher program.
At this time, rental and energy assistance was transferred back from OPAL and when the Affordable Care Act came about, OFC was the primary contact for applicants as well. Eventually, OFC cobbled together enough administrative fees from the programs to sustain 1 FTE staff. Erin remained part-time and a part-time Office Manager was added.
OFC applied for and was awarded a $25,000 grant through the Orcas Island Community Foundation’s (OICF) Community Grants Program to increase staff time from 1 FTE to 1.5 FTE, allowing Erin to expand office support and additional time for direct services. This was especially needed to manage health insurance applications through the Affordable Care Act. The extra hours resulted in an increase in direct services for the community, with over 250 individuals and families provided over 2000 services in 2014 compared to 125 families served in 2013. It was a good investment of grant dollars.
This increase in activity brought the staff and Boards of OFC and OICF to a new understanding of how critical their work is towards meeting community needs, and just how large those needs have grown. The Board, which was comprised of the directors from each school and the County ECEAP coordinator, realized that they did not have the time or resources at that point to grow OFC’s capacity even though they saw the needs rising. They stated their eagerness to pass the torch to a new group of Board members.
Consequently, OFC's 2015 grant request to OICF included a Board development component along with requesting $25,000 to fund their staff time for 2015–16. Diane Berreth and Helen Bee offered board development services pro bono. The goal was to populate the board with community members who could provide expertise on nonprofit organizational issues and fundraising, as well as social services and advocacy.
OFC appointed a new nine-member board and embarked on a strategic planning process. Support for this endeavor was also provided by OICF. The new Board was tasked with developing a clear vision and strategic plan for OFC to build a sustainable model to carry it forward. Board members fanned out to interview over 60 individuals and organizations to determine what was already being provided and how unmet needs could be addressed.
The result was a new name — Orcas Community Resource Center (OCRC) — with the mission to become a leading social service agency through modest growth and greater coordination with other organizations providing social services. This change also included a move to new quarters on Prune Alley near its junction with Rose Street. The Board also accepted responsibility for OICF’s Ask Orcas project, to move it under the OCRC umbrella, giving the Resource Center a team of well-trained volunteers.
OCRC is having a positive impact in the Orcas Island community and has a dedicated team with a solid long-term future. To better serve our clients, we expanded our office space by moving to 374-A North Beach Road, across from the hardware store.