San Mar Family & Community Services CEO Keith Fanjoy announced two significant grant awards to expand existing efforts at Bester Elementary School and provide future programming at E. Russell Hicks Middle School. Bester Community of Hope (BCOH), a San Mar Initiative supported by the Washington County Department of Social Services, Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs, focuses on addressing the comprehensive needs of children and families in the south side of the City of Hagerstown. While the broader BCOH efforts have an emphasis on child welfare outcomes, these new grants will focus more specifically on components related to health, education and afterschool resources. Fanjoy explained, “Over the past several years, San Mar Family & Community Services has worked tirelessly in the south side of Hagerstown to improve the lives and outcomes of children and families. Our notification of these grants is validation to all of our staff members and partners who dedicate their lives to humbly serving others. It’s also an early measure of success on the long-term journey we’ve committed to through the Bester Community of Hope initiative.”
Access to quality educational opportunities
In late 2018, the Maryland State Department of Education sent notification to San Mar that the Bester Community of Hope Initiative’s grant application for “South End 21st Century Community Learning Centers” won a significant annual award of $400,000.These funds are designated to support expansion of free afterschool programming and school based supports at Bester Elementary School and catalyze the creation of new afterschool opportunities at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in 2019. The grant process, which was led by Kerry Fair of San Mar includes the hiring of eleven employees, including a Director of 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a site coordinator at Bester Elementary and Hicks Middle, and eight part-time afterschool support staff members. San Mar has begun recruitment for key positions with targeted hire dates in the next month. “We are very thankful for our partnership with Bester Community of Hope,” says Dr. Kristen English, Principal at Bester Elementary School. “Our students are having enriching and productive afterschool experiences, which contribute to academic successes and positive social interactions.” Dr. Jana Palmer, Executive Director of Elementary Instruction added, “The 21st Century grant has the potential to provide a safe place for our students to go after school with a focus on extending learning opportunities.”
Bester Community of Hope began demonstrating the work by providing various free afterschool clubs at Bester Elementary starting in the Fall of 2016 and prior to this award was averaging over 100 students in Fall and Spring seasons to participate in varied academic and enrichment offerings under the title of BOOST, or Bester Out of School Time.
Improving Health Outcomes for South Side children
In 2018, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) also notified San Mar of a grant award, totaling $250,000 over five years, to expand and sustain existing efforts to provide free acute health care services to families with the students attending Bester Elementary and to create a new school based health center at E. Russell Hicks in the Fall of 2019. As a part of the process, key partners including Meritus Health, The Community Free Clinic of Washington County and Washington County Public Schools, worked with San Mar to increase standards to become a certified school based health center under the Maryland State Department of Education umbrella. The updated Memorandum of Understanding was finalized in January of 2019, and free acute health services will begin once again at Bester Elementary in the coming weeks. The grant represents a multi-year effort, written and led by Jerica Washington LCSW-C of San Mar, to sustain and expand the ongoing health needs in south side neighborhoods. Washington stated, “We are excited to continue promoting child health in this innovative program that helps with early intervention. Our aim is that children are in school ready to learn and their wellbeing is supported by the community.”
The Bester Health Center was created in the Fall of 2016, and initially was an unfunded commitment from the Community Free Clinic in collaboration with Bester Community of Hope to provide free acute health care services to any child attending Bester Elementary when a parent completed a basic consent form for treatment, no insurance required. Over the past two years as the program developed, over 50% of school students were registered, and a variety of acute health services were offered including but not limited to writing prescriptions for illnesses and providing concrete resources such as lice shampoo, over the counter medications and nebulizer treatments. The intent is to improve access and convenience for families, ultimately reducing stress for families juggling many responsibilities and targeting attendance as a key outcome by expediting treatment. In addition to direct clinic services, Bester Community of Hope uses the grant to promote and create activities and resources that increase opportunities around health education. Nicole Houser, Executive Director of the Community Free Clinic shared, “The Community Free Clinic is happy to be part of this collaboration. As the healthcare provider at Bester Elementary we can quickly meet the students’ needs and help in reducing absenteeism. We look forward to creating the same partnership with E. Russell Hicks students and their families.”