Staff in Action: Support Counselors of The Gathering Place

Staff in Action: Support Counselors of TGP

It has been amazing to see AFS staff rise to the occasion to make sure our client’s needs continue to be met in a time of crisis.

The Support Counselors of The Gathering Place have performed amazing work during this shelter in place. AFS received the notice of the shelter in place order by Alameda County on March 15th. At that point, the Support Counselors worked tirelessly that week to organize virtual visits, including helping people who had very little technical knowledge set up Skype, FaceTime and Zoom visits. Overall, Support Counselors contacted all biological parents and caregivers to set up these video and audio visits.

Support Counselors have been working hard to make sure all families have the opportunity to have virtual visits. The first week, they facilitated 21 of 58 visits. As of the first week of March, Support Counselors had facilitated 47 out of 66 visits.

The Support Counselors have also come up with wonderful, innovative ideas to keep the virtual visits interesting. For example, they have streamed the animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, given books to the parents to read to children, streamed interactive music for the parents and children, helped the parents to do homework with their children, found online storytellers, and so much more. Each week it is so heartwarming to see all the effort the Support Counselors are putting into each visit.

In addition, Jorge Lopez-Merino has made a huge impact on The Gathering Place. He has opened the office every day since sheltering in place began and made himself available to help all who need it, including by taking school supplies and books to two families.

It has been amazing to see AFS staff rise to the occasion to make sure our client’s needs continue to be met in a time of crisis.

Social Distancing Stations for T.G.P. Visitation

At some point in the future, we will be taking the following steps to again allow for safe visitation at The Gathering Place, by setting up socially distant stations:

  1. Station one will be two canopies spaced eight feet apart. There will be a table going from one canopy to the other canopy. The parents can sit under one canopy at the head of the table, and the children sit under the other canopy at the other head of the table. S.C. will prepare meal bags for each visit. Clients will have a menu to choose from for their bag meal. Station one will also have iPads so families can stream games and play with or against each other. There will also be speakers so the family can sing and dance together. S.C.s will also make bags with items such as art supplies, Legos etc.. so the child can bring it to each visit.
  2. Station two will be two large Jenga games spaced eight feet apart. The parents can play on one game and the children on the other.
  3. Station three will be two basketball hoops spaced over six feet apart. The children can play on one hoop and the parents play on the other one. Families can play horse.
  4. Station four will be a giant zone for connect-four, hang-man or charades, all socially distanced.
  5. This will be the Corn Hole zone. There will be two corn holes placed back to back. The parents will be on one side of the corn holes while children play on the other side.
  6. Station six will be two jump houses. One for children 1 to 6 years, with the other for children 7 years to 12 years. Children can play in the jump and the parents can sit six feet away on chairs.
  7. Station seven a large gymnastics mat. We will put it in a safe area outside so babies can play on it.

The Grow and Flourish Program

Many of the communities where our clients live are plagued with health disparities. These communities are ravaged with chronic health problems. The Grow and Flourish Program will help our clients understand these health disparities and provide insights on how to prevent them. Staff has observed many of our parents feed children meals that are high in sugar and salt, and are highly processed. When speaking to the parents about their dietary habits, it seems some have no idea how the food they are eating is affecting their health. One of the purposes of the Grow and Flourish program is to equip the parents with a strong understanding of how the food they eat affects their health and their children’s development.

The second purpose of the program is to address childhood trauma. Many parents don’t understand how domestic violence, yelling, whipping of children and other trauma affects their children. The purpose of the Grow and Flourish Program is to educate our clients on healthy living physically and mentally. Part one will include healthy eating, reading labels, exercising and recognizing other factors contributing to chronic illnesses, and how all this impacts their health. Part two will cover childhood trauma and how childhood trauma has lasting effects through adulthood. The class will hopefully correct the stigma of mental health issues, and educate our clients how childhood trauma can also contribute to chronic illness and mental health issues.

Kim Scott and her team will develop the curriculum to address the above issues. Kim Scott will also provide pamphlets and brochures that clients can take home to help them internalize what they have learned. The classes will consist of two 90-minute trainings. The first session will cover “Are You and Your Family Living a Healthy Life?” The second class will be on “How childhood trauma affects us all.”

Kim will develop the curriculum and train the educators to present the course to our clients. The first hour of both sessions will be the presentations, and the last 30 minutes will be question and answers. TGP staff will identify the families, inform them about the program and schedule them on Zoom and visit with the Educators. The Gathering Place will set up the Zoom meeting and facilitate the beginning of the meeting.

TGP staff will create a calendar where educators can put the dates and times they are available to facilitate the class, and T.G.P. staff will assign families to the times available and send the Zoom links to all involved in the secession. TGP staff will give a $25 gift card so parents can purchase healthy food to get started on their heathy journey. TGP staff will also buy food for each family and let them cook a healthy dinner during one of their visits. T.G.P. will encourage activity and exercise during the visit. T.G.P will also supply healthy food choices for the parents when they are attending their visits.

Class sessions will be scheduled at least 24 hours in advance. Clients are asked to cancel visits at least 24 hours in advance. If clients fail to cancel at least 24 hours in advance, educators will be paid.


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Alternative Family Services

Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed foster care, adoption and mental health services throughout California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento region. Since 1978, the mission of AFS has been – and continues to be – to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and well-being in communities through foster care, adoption and mental health services.

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