Family Service Association fights poverty, promotes health in Inland Empire – San Bernardino Sun

Family Service Association was founded by the Junior League and local faith-based organizations in the city of Riverside. In the early 1950s, these groups rallied together to assist military families who were struggling.

Today, the association continues to address poverty, hunger and health, serving community members from infancy long into adulthood in under-served communities.

Many program participants are hard-working but struggle to get by with low wages, fixed incomes and the high cost of living in California, according to Executive Director Cheryl-Marie Hansberger. Through early education, trauma-informed mental health services, senior housing, support for home-bound individuals, safe senior/community centers and nutritious meals for older residents, the association serves over 13,000 community members each year.

“There are a lot of challenges in life, and we know that it’s a lot easier to get through them when you are surrounded by trustworthy community members that have your interest or your family’s best interest in mind,” Hansberger said.

Volunteer Eshana Naveed is seen at a Family Service Association food distribution event. (Courtesy of Family Service Association)

Family Service Association maintained its services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even as it saw an increase in demand. Its Childhood Development Centers continued to provide childcare for frontline workers and families needing affordable childcare options. The centers served more than 1,200 children last year.

The association also works with community partners through its HOPE Collaborative to prevent the abuse and neglect of children in Riverside County.

The organization saw its highest demand to date in the past year for senior nutrition. It provided over 8,600 older residents with meals at 27 sites in the Inland Empire. Additionally, the association distributed 10,000 personal protective equipment supplies throughout the region.

The organization’s services often help families that are struggling get the hand up they need to find success, Hansberger said. One client who had two children in Child Development Centers said her children ran into their Family Service Association teachers at stores, years after they aged out of the programs, and were excited to see them.

The client found a job with a home builder with a program to donate funding to a charity of each new employee’s choice. The client chose the association and called it to express her gratitude for the support she received at a critical juncture in her life.

“We love to see her family flourish and we are so grateful that she’s still seeking out ways to stay connected to the FSA community,” Hansberger said.

Recently, the association received a grant from the Gabbert Justice Donor Advised Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. It depends on grants received from government agencies to support many of its programs. However, as minimum wage has increased year over year, these grants largely have not provided for wage increases for the staff. Food costs, a sizable portion of the organization’s childcare and senior nutrition expenses, have also increased.

“Demands for childcare, mental health services and support for seniors have never been higher, yet costs are rapidly rising and it’s increasingly hard to keep up with demand,” Hansberger said.

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