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Keeping Children Happy and Safe

Giving Families Tools They Need to Succeed

There are many risk factors that can lead to child abuse. MountainStar Family Relief Nursery provides support for parents and children to help create a more positive and healthy home environment. “We’re an early childhood abuse prevention program and we do that work both through the classroom and home visiting,” says Executive Director, Tim Rusk. “And there’s nobody else that does what we do.” MountainStar Family Relief Nursery got its start in Bend in 2001 when community members came together and decided that more and better services were needed for families with young children facing extreme challenges. Originally begun as a project with the Kids Center, it became an independent nonprofit within a couple of years. And it has kept growing ever since with five locations to serve all of Central Oregon.

“MountainStar staff really showed me how to have patience, grace for myself as a human being, kindness, non judgement and hope,” says Brittnye, whose daughter attended the relief nursery during the 2015-2016 school year. Children from birth to age three are in the classroom from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. two days a week. In the afternoon, interventionists go out and conduct home visits, which, says Development Director, Staley Micken, is an extremely critical part of the program. “It feels like a limited number of hours of contact, but 98% of our children stay safe from abuse and 99% stay out of foster care,” adds Rusk.

“The reason we focus on kids from 0 to 3 is we’re really talking about brain science,” explains Micken. “Eighty percent of your brain is hard wired between these ages. In our therapeutic classrooms, we’re really focusing on social and emotional learning, trying to trigger healthy brain development.” For Brittnye’s daughter, these classes were invaluable. “I watched her imagination blossom as she treasured close friendships with other kids in the classroom and learned to positively interact with both children and adults,” she says. The staff, says Micken, is amazing and truly cares about these kids. They thrive on making a difference. All participants come voluntarily, and all services are free. “We really are a true nonprofit,” says Rusk. “We do get some state funding, but we do almost twice as much work using foundations, grants and community donations.” In December, MountainStar Family Relief Nursery will be holding its holiday campaign to raise funds. Besides monetary donations, which are always needed, they also accept items that help support struggling families, such as clothing, toys, diapers, cribs, and furniture. The relief nursery needs volunteers as well.  “Our volunteers are really a unique group of individuals who have built really special relationships with our kids,” says Micken. She explains that volunteers allow MountainStar to keep a three-to-one ratio in the classrooms which helps to make its therapeutic model work.

“I’m incredibly proud of my family, particularly my kids, and they are proud of me,” says Brittnye. “I spent a lot of years trying to make sure that they would be okay, and now I get to make sure they’re going to be great. I feel empowered to take on the uncertainties of tomorrow, rather than imprisoned by my own shortcomings. We are stable, we are safe, we have managed to succeed in the face of great struggle.”