Despite the many challenges families are facing in our community’s “new normal”, Empower Yolo’s shelter staff and After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) staff are preparing the kids for a successful, new school year.

Back to school planning at Empower Yolo’s safe house is well underway to prepare the kids to be successful students. “We are currently enrolling children into school as they come into the safe house,” says Natalia Maria Villagomez, lead child advocate, Empower Yolo. “As we work on the enrollment process, we assess each child for physical, emotional and medical needs and make necessary accommodations,” says Villagomez.

Many children at the safe house who are escaping violent situations or who have experienced trauma have special needs that are different from other children in the community. Empower Yolo advocates work with school districts and outside community organizations to collect school supplies, clothing, coordinate transportation and safety plans for children to attend school. The shelter partners with Sutter Health to provide wellness clinics for clients. Families complete their yearly school physical and update immunization records. The clinic comes directly to the safe house to provide healthcare services. Once physical and medical needs are met, advocates prioritize the kids’ emotional needs. This month, the safe house is providing haircuts for all the children through ClipDart, a community partner. The shelter will also provide a special “back to school breakfast” on the first day of school and first day of school pictures for families.

Throughout the school year, children at the safe house face many other challenges that other children may not experience. “Our children come from backgrounds where they have to switch schools often, or they are continuing with online school which has more challenges and results in loss of learning. They have multiple first days of school throughout the year. That is why it is important to have backpacks and school supplies for the whole year, not just the beginning of the school year. The safe house children also have a harder time building trust with others; they need extra emotional support during times of transition. The advocates reassure the children that they are in a safe place and they create a safe environment where the kids are able to talk about anything. We also provide peer counseling and we can accompany them to their new school prior to their first day,” says Villagomez.

Other stressors families at the shelter experience such as homelessness and lack of access to resources make it difficult for children to keep up in school and not fall behind. “The children that come to the safe house have faced many obstacles such as food and housing insecurity. When they are with us at Empower Yolo we do our best to bridge the gap for families helping them with needs such as food and, clothing, and connecting them with resources like CalFresh. Providing basic necessities helps families and children stay on track to move forward in a positive way. Community support through financial donations and in-kind donations like food and clothing are also very helpful and make a huge difference,” says Villagomez.

The community can best support the children going back to school by donating backpacks with supplies, clothing, gift cards for transportation, gift cards for food, or snacks and drinks. The safe house also provides after school tutoring for the children led by local high school students where they provide snacks and drinks for the kids. These types of donations are needed all year round.

Donations can be brought to main office at 175 Walnut Street in Woodland, or the Resource Center at 441 D Street, Davis during office hours; Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Tuesdays, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs):

Empower Yolo’s ASSETs program will provide programming at Woodland High School (WHS) this year. The ASSETs team continues to provide services to students to ensure that they achieve academic and lifelong success.

“As the school year is approaching we plan on continuing to develop programs that promote the academic, emotional and social development of students,” says Tony Morales, ASSETs Director of Youth Programs, Empower Yolo. “We are working on strengthening our existing collaborations with WHS and other community partners to be able to offer opportunities and resources. We are expanding our programs that are offered through a partnership with the Sacramento Valley College Corps that will bring fellows from UC Davis, Woodland Community College, Sacramento State and American River College into our program that can help lead and develop more opportunities for WHS students that meet their needs and interests,” says Morales.

This year, ASSETs leaders have many goals for the program. “We hope our events this year are successful such as our annual “Wolves Homecoming 5k” which will benefit the WHS Athletics Department and our Woodland Youth Council and raise funds for graduating senior scholarships. We also hope to offer students regular outdoor trips such as our monthly hikes and other outings that give students the space to feel empowered and aware of the opportunities that are available to them to become positive members of their community and further pursue their passions. A consistent and accessible form of transportation such as a van or bus for multiple passengers could make this a reality for students,” Morales says.

ASSETs students often have barriers, which prevent them from fully engaging in productive after school activities. “Access to a reliable form of transportation is a barrier that ASSETs students face. Some of the opportunities we offer are limited to the access we have available to take students to events and opportunities that are happening or being developed for them such as youth summits, university visits or outdoor hikes which promote mental health and community building amongst our students,” says Morales.

The ASSETs team works hard to help students overcome barriers and engage in positive, new opportunities and experiences. “ASSETs students often come from underserved communities so they lack the ability to experience things outside of Woodland and familiarize themselves with different environments outside their immediate community. Space is always an issue for our students. We are constantly advocating for a proper classroom to be able to do our daily programming that’s primary use is for ASSETs programs.  ASSETs also serves Knights Landing students and these individuals lack engaging opportunities to gain social skills through fun and educational events,” says Morales.

School supplies such as backpacks, pencils, pens and any other items are donations ASSETs will gladly accept and provide to students in need. Funding is also limited within ASSETs and we welcome financial help to provide quality programming for our students. If you are interested in supporting ASSETs in any way, please contact Tony Morales at [email protected]. Supporting youths in our community as they return to school and throughout the year will help them succeed academically and will encourage them to achieve their goals even in the new normal.

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