- Val Vista Lakes Elementary
GPS Family Resource Center making a difference in the lives of students and employees
Think about the items that you use on a daily basis from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep at night. Personal care items, clothing, shoes, work or school bags, supplies, food to eat, and much more. These items are part of our routines so much so that we can forget their value in our lives. For Gilbert Public Schools’ students and families who are struggling to get by, these items mean so much more.
“When it comes to requesting items, sometimes people think it’s always going to be food. One family was asking for toothbrushes, because they didn’t have enough for everybody,” said Susan Cadena, the K-12 Prevention Coordinator for Gilbert Public Schools.
The district saw a need in the community, so about two years ago the GPS Family Resource Center was created. It’s located on the southside of Gilbert Elementary’s campus. The centralized district location houses items and resources for students, families, and employees in need. There are toys, bookbags, clothing, shoes, food, school supplies, hygiene products, and more. All of the items are donated by GPS schools, community members, organizations, and local businesses.
“We have such a great community that sometimes we don’t know when donations are coming,” Cadena said.
The center focuses on serving families who are experiencing homelessness and youth on their own, but it is open to everyone in need. At least 300 GPS students have been assisted this academic year. Cadena says the goal is to expand the reach to even more GPS families in the future.
"It's something that we know is raw in the making. We've already supported so many without having to do a lot of things. We can only imagine what that will look like once we really have it all together," she said.
The GPS Family Resource Center was recently awarded a grant by the Gilbert Education Foundation. The money is going towards buying shelving units, storage containers, and clothing racks to help organize and display the donations. Cadena and Allee Klingensmith, the Homeless Education and Foster Care Liaison, are working together to transform the space and create more of a shopping experience.
“We want it to be at least somewhat dignified where school social workers or families can come in and be able to pick some items that they need without feeling like the items are just thrown together,” Cadena said.
The GPS Resource Center is accessible throughout the academic year and the summer. In order to get donations, students and families can connect with their school’s social worker or mental health counselor. GPS employees can reach out to their supervisor, or contact Cadena’s office directly for assistance. The center aims to provide practical items that help make daily life easier, especially for youth on their own.
“Sometimes we provide a sleep bag that they can leave at school if they need to before going on to wherever they might be staying. That really opened our eyes to the practicality of the items that we were taking,” she said.
Donations are also collected year-round. Schools, clubs, community groups, businesses, and individuals are all encouraged to give. New items are accepted, but Cadena hopes the center will be able to get a washer and dryer in the future to clean items that are gently-used. The center could possibly become more than just a hub for donations. Cadena says it could eventually host community drives and resource fairs for the students and families it serves.
"I want it to be this resource that people are aware of, and to know that we do have a need at Gilbert Public Schools. We are more than willing, ready, and open to serve those families. With everybody's support, I think it is something that we can truly grow into an effective way of supporting our school community,” she said.
To connect with the GPS Family Resource Center, check out the School Social Worker & Mental Health Counselor Directory listed at the bottom of the wellness section of the GPS website!