We may officially be in the recovery phase for the country’s deepest recession in decades as we near the end of 2011, but don’t kid yourself – there are still hundreds of families in our region struggling with the fallout from the housing market’s collapse and the economy’s persistent woes.
“The numbers keep getting higher and higher,” said Dawn Howk, a counselor with the Ballston Spa Central School District who works with the school’s Families in Transition Program. “Right now we oversee 105 students who are either in the program or at-risk for the program. These are kids with families who live in temporary housing. They might be staying with a neighbor, family member or friend, maybe sharing one bedroom or all sleeping in the living room together.”
And these examples are the fortunate ones. Some families have no other choice but to wait out the holidays at local shelters or motels due to a loss of housing or a domestic violence issue.
It’s an unstable situation at best, one that can cause much anxiety and stress for children as they watch their parents struggle to get by. But stability is exactly what those like Howk at Ballston Spa’s Families in Transition Program are seeking, as the organization prepares to deliver a special “Project Night Night” package to families just in time for the holidays.
“We want to give [the students] a sense of stability,” said Howk. “Some of these families had to leave behind belongings where they were, so they don’t have the books they had at home, stuffed animals, things like that. So we tried to include a few security items in our little bag, to give them something that’s just theirs and theirs alone.”
Funding in the amount of $600 was awarded to the Families in Transition Program from the Ballston Spa Middle School’s Penny Harvest Roundtable, which was used to purchase bags containing special books to encourage family bonding, a fleece blanket to provide a sense of security, and a small stuffed animal to provide comfort to children receiving the care package.
Program Coordinator Mara Gallagher is credited with spearheading the local “Project Night Night” effort, basing her work on a California organization that distributes packages to over 25,000 children annually.
“We were very excited and fortunate to have received a donation from Ballston Spa Middle School students through the Penny Harvest Program,” said Gallagher. “The donation has specifically allowed us to give our youngest children in the program keepsakes that will hopefully add some sense of normalcy during a time of uncertainty.”
The Ballston Spa School District has a contract with the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council of Saratoga County to employ one full-time counselor and one part-time coordinator through funding awarded from the McKinney-Vento Grant through the New York State Department of Education. Funding from the grant is then put toward programs like Families in Transition, which serves over 100 students and families from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.