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Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
Published: 26 June 2013

Armando Galavis (left) and Courtney Towne (right)

Since merging with LifeWorks NW nearly a year ago, Children's Relief Nursery has continued to expand its services to children and families.

"We truly offer services across the whole life span," says Courtney Towne, director of child & family prevention and mental health.

To date, the St. John's relief nursery has served 220 children and their families.

As a member of the Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries, it is required to provide therapeutic classrooms, parent education and support, case management, transportation for families, a clothes closet and a food pantry. It relies heavily on volunteers.

The nursery recently announced it will be adding early childhood mental health, child & family mental health, adult mental health (Spanish speaking) and adult addictions (Spanish speaking) to its range of services.

Towne says they put an emphasis on small class sizes with multiple teachers.

Ellis Casabar preparing lunch

Children arrive on buses at 9:00 a.m. to a greeting from nursery staff, she says.

"We go down to greet the buses every morning," says Towne. "Just big friendly faces, singing to the kids and marching them to their classrooms. Just making sure that from when the children walk into the building they feel really welcomed and supported."

Children's pictures are placed above their cubbies in order to give them a sense of their own space. They see the same teachers every time, which Towne says helps the children build relationships with the staff. She marvels at the skills the children pick up.

"It always amazes me to walk into the toddler classroom and see the two and three year olds and how capable they are of doing a lot of chores and tasks," says Towne. "They bus their tables. They pour their milk. They're really being taught some important living skills at a young age."

Teachers also make home visits in the afternoons and on Fridays to continue to reinforce the developmental stages in the children and to help support the attachment between the parents and the children. They work to develop individual plans for the children.

Other services include traumatic stress expertise, scheduled childcare (either playtime or self-care) for parents who need to take care of personal or family matters, and music therapy through a program called Music Together.

Staff members are trained in making music together. They teach the children songs that reinforce motor skills the children are developing in their classes. Home visitors teach these songs to the parents as well.

"They're (kids) learning how to play different instruments, they're learning how to have cooperative play, and they're singing fun songs together," says Towne. "Also, it helps foster a positive relationship between parents and their kids where they can experience fun and engaging activities that aren't that hard to replicate and don't cost a lot."

The nursery relies on five different primary funding sources. It gets an allocation from the Governor's budget, which requires a 25 percent match from local community investment. The Portland Children's Levy has three grant contracts with the nursery. Also, the nursery is in the first year of a four year award from SAMSHA that goes towards health integration and trauma services. It includes free training for people who are able to implement the evidence based practices.

"You can really rewire brains," says Towne. "Folks that have been exposed to traumatic events, with the right kind of support and treatment, can really start to build better pathways in their brain to have better functions and better outcomes."

For more information on the Children's Relief Nursery, go to their website.

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