SELMA – If there’s one thing Angelita Echeveste-Duran wants Selmans to understand, it’s that everyone needs help at some point in their life.
“We all could receive extra support at one time or another," she said. "It’s okay to ask for help. That’s part of self-care, and it’s okay to provide that for yourself and for your family."
Echeveste-Duran is the program director of a new Selma Neighborhood Resource Center as part of Comprehensive Youth Services. The Center, which first opened its doors in July, provides a full range of prevention, intervention, treatment and educational services to help abused and at-risk children and their families.
Their office is temporarily located at 2117 Selma St., one block south of City Hall. It will relocate to a new office opposite the Selma Police Department on East Front Street once office renovations are completed there.
Their current hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Home visits will take place until 6:30 p.m. to accommodate working families’ schedules.
The center offers parenting classes, parent support groups, case management, translation services, help filling out forms for Medi-Cal, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or tax forms, home visits, internet job search, family therapy and parent-child interaction therapy.
Eight family advocates, one coordinator, three to five therapists and two to three supervisors who will work at the office. Their new office will include a community meeting room.
Echeveste-Duran said that family advocates and family therapists work with clients depending on the needs of each family. Some of their services are covered by Medi-Cal, thus there may be no charge.
“There’s no cost for the services in the Resource Center part of it. The other programs are Medi-Cal eligible,” she said.
The Selma office also offers what’s known as a differential response program for families that have been referred to Child Protective Services.
“It’s us providing services to families within the community they live in,” Echeveste-Duran said. “Sometimes, if they work with a family advocate, they’ll feel less intimidated than with a CPS worker.”
Iris Ocampo coordinates the differential response program and said many clients walking through their doors simply need help with complicated forms for such programs as Medi-Cal or help navigating the internet.
“There’s a need for Medi-Cal support," she said. "We’ve gotten applications to help clients apply for full-scope Medi-Cal. They need help understanding it and the forms a little complicated and sometimes they’ve had issues with that. We have a direct line so we’re able to get a case worker on the phone with them.”
Ocampo said families can also take advantage of parenting classes starting this week from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday and citizenship classes from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesdays.
“For the parenting classes, the focus is communication and the bonding and relationship between the parent and child," she said. "For the citizenship class, participants will receive information about qualifications, preparation for the naturalization test and information regarding fee waivers. The growth of people applying for citizenship is much higher now.”
Residents may walk in or make an appointment to access the center’s services, or may be referred to their office by another agency.
“Anyone that needs any help can walk in or anyone can refer to us, such as the schools or any community partner, any church; even the Chamber of Commerce could refer to us," she said. "Anyone that’s interested in referring anyone to us, all they have to do is contact us, walk in or give us a call. Our goal is to provide them the support or make sure they’re given a warm hand off or a referral so that someone helps them in whatever capacity they need.”
Once someone has signed up to receive services, Echeveste-Duran said their office uses a case management program where a family advocate works with each family and goals are set together.
Meetings are set up for either each week or twice a month, depending on what’s needed for them to reach their goals.
“It could be job-related, or a job search, financial stability. It could be male or a female in a domestic violence relationship," she said. "Whatever it is, whatever needs a family has, we sit with them and help them address it. We look at potential obstacles, or potential people that are allies that could provide support for them.”
Although the staff can help with such paperwork as applying for Medi-Cal or food stamps, Echeveste-Duran said they do not have funding for utility or rent assistance. They will, however, look for partners in the community that could provide those services, she said.
To get the word out about the agency, staff has been present at functions throughout town, including the National Night Out event in August at the Floral Garden Apartments.
Cynthia Perez, one of the differential response case managers with agency, was among staff at that gathering. They’d brought colorful pencils and erasers along with the brochures to offer the residents that night.
“The residents were saying it’s good to have something like this in Selma because if they need parenting classes or other services, most of the time they have to travel to Fresno,” Perez said. “So we’re just trying to outreach to everyone in the community and this is one of the best ways to do so.”
Echeveste-Duran said her and the staff’s goal is to be responsive to families’ needs, as she herself grew up in a rural community and still has family that lives in rural areas of Kings County.
“I’m passionate for this work, and the reason why is because I’ve had to be a recipient of services. As a child, I remember how difficult it was to receive either services or guidance from anyone who had information. We really are here for the community and we really do care about the work that we do. It’s not just a job for our family advocates. It’s about family empowerment and transformation and services.”