BCOH opens new home on Mill Street

Full Herald Mail Media story by Alexis Fitzpatrick can be viewed here: BCOH opens new home on Mill Street

Bester Community of Hope celebrates new home on Mill Street

Scott Nicewarner and his wife consider themselves proud parents of Bester Elementary School alumni, even with fully grown children.

After years of running the PTA and being involved in community, the Hagerstown city administrator said he still has a soft spot for school and the families who go there.

“Bester was our heart and soul for that time. We loved the kids, we loved the parents,” he said. “There was a special feeling about Bester that we are so thrilled. … We are so proud.”

Nicewarner joined representatives from the city, county, state and other organizations Thursday for the official ribbon cutting of Bester Community of Hope’s new location at 356 Mill St. in Hagerstown.

An initiative of San Mar Family and Community Services, the group focuses on helping children and families in the Bester Elementary community. During the last fiscal year, the organization served 115 families, totaling about 200 people.

San Mar CEO Keith Fanjoy spoke of the initiative’s beginning in early 2014, when San Mar began shifting away from its traditional child-welfare model, moving from treatment to prevention to improve the safety of children and their families. He called the transition a “labor of love,” which led to the creation of Bester Community of Hope in 2016.

“That little idea, we planted a seed in other people and they started to join into a process,” Fanjoy said.

He thanked the original investors in the project, some of whom were present at the ribbon cutting, for their support throughout the years, even when others called it a “crazy idea” or questioned how results would be measured.

Bester Elementary’s attendance has improved, according to Washington County Public Schools. The Maryland Center for Character Education named it one of the 2017-2018 Schools of the Year.

“We know it’s working because of where we are today and where we were,” Fanjoy said. “I’m more excited to do this again in five or 10 years when you’re in the south end community center and we’re at the next level.”

Jen Younker, the managing director of Bester Community of Hope, said Thursday’s event marked a new era. She said in the past year and a half, the operation has grown enough that it had to operate out of two offices across the city from one another.

“This is great symbolism for us. It’s our team coming back together right in the heart of where we want to be,” she said.

Proclamations from the city, county, the Chamber of Commerce and the offices of U.S. Rep. David Trone, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Del. Paul Corderman and Sen. Andrew Serafini were read during the celebration.

Maryland Senate recognizes BCOH as a “model” for communities

Herald Mail story by Tamela Baker available here: San Mar receives Senate recognition

Md. Senate recognizes Bester program as ‘model’ for communities

ANNAPOLIS — In January, the Bester Community of Hope — a cooperative initiative to strengthen families in the neighborhood of Bester Elementary School — won national recognition from Casey Family Programs.

It was recognized for bringing together public, business, nonprofit, philanthropic and community partners to improve the safety and success of children and their families.

On Thursday, the Maryland Senate recognized San Mar Family and Community Services, the organizing agency for the Community of Hope, for “being awarded the national Jim Casey Building Communities of Hope Award for the Bester Community Hope Initiative and making a difference in the lives of Maryland children, families, and communities.”

Sen. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, called the Bester program a model for other communities.

San Mar CEO Keith Fanjoy, Washington County Social Services Director Mike Piercy and family support worker Teri Conrad were on hand for the citation.

Bester Community of Hope is a San Mar initiative that had its beginning in 2014, as the longtime residential facility sought to provide services to families earlier — before there is any need to place children in foster care.

Partnering with Bester Elementary, Social Services, Meritus Health, Hagerstown police and several other community agencies, San Mar has endeavored to connect families with available services including health care, after-school activities and other school-based programs.

“We’re really excited today to receive this resolution,” Fanjoy told Herald-Mail Media. “It’s a validation of a lot of hard work from a lot of different people. And really, when we come down to Annapolis and Sen. Serafini’s taken the time to really share our story with the community, ultimately that’s going to help us to continue on in the future.”

The initiative has had “critical funding” from Social Services, the Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs, Fanjoy added. “Essentially, it’s a place-based strategy to help children and families be stronger, with the idea that we can reduce the amount of children entering into the foster care system.”

“The results we’re seeing is a greater investment in the families in our community,” Piercy said.

Whenever a child can be safely kept at home and parents are provided resources to help, he added, “we’re not only preventing a child from coming (into foster care) now, but we’re also reducing the trauma that child might experience in separation. So there’s an economic return on investment, but there’s also a social return on investment, which is families — their capacity being deepened and improved.”

Conrad said there’s a referral process in place for bringing families into the program, but “we are there to reach out to the community. … We try to connect with everyone in the family and let them identify what their concerns are, and help them … reach the goals that they have as a family.”