When Stephanie Sanabria, the City Connects coordinator at Springfield’s Early Childhood Education Center, looked at the needs of her students and their families, one topic that jumped out was health care.
“We have many students who have various diagnosis, and their families are also facing a number of health-related issues,” Sanabria said.
Sanabria’s response: Set up a health fair.
Amy Heberle, a Post-Doctoral fellow who works with City Connects’ evaluation team at the Boston College Lynch School of Education, explains:
“Meeting health care needs is a key part of the work that City Connects does. The research tells us that unmet mental and physical health needs are common among young children and families, and these unmet needs are a huge barrier to learning and thriving. Families often lack the time or information to identify services on their own, so it’s important to have a coordinator in schools who can bridge the gap between providers and families.”
To bridge this gap in Springfield, Sanabria worked with the nurse and other school staff to make a list of the health agencies within the city, including mental health agencies, nutrition and dental programs, the youth development efforts promoted by the Girl Scouts of America, and the YMCA’s summer health activities.
“This was my first time coordinating such an event,” Sanabria says of the health fair. “The idea came from another coordinator at the Indian Orchard Elementary school. I love that other coordinators share their project ideas.”
“The fair took place in late May. The agencies were happy to take part, and I have now registered them as community resources for a future Health Fair event. I secured a brand new bike to raffle off and other health baskets as well. Families had to visit 10 tables in order to enter the raffle. Our winners were very happy!”
The winner of the bike was a 3-year-old boy “who was ecstatic. The night before he did not want to sleep, his mom said, because he was adamant that he was was going to win the bike.”
What Sanabria’s work shows is the power of community connections that are fun and engaging. Indeed, one way that coordinators get the right services to the right child at the right time is by making connections to opportunities that students and families genuinely enjoy.