In the spring of 2018, Rosemary Conder, Director at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), read a book that would change the course of nonprofits and integral community members in Owensboro. That book, “Anna, Age Eight,” was data-driven, solution-focused and incorporated bringing the local community together.
Conder contacted one of the book’s co-authors, Dominic Capello, who accepted an invitation to visit Owensboro to guide and instruct community members on how they could become resilience leaders.
Capello made Owensboro a U.S. pilot program for breaking the cycle of child abuse through being proactive and working together as a community.
Using this as a jumping point, Conder and Ashley Evans-Smith, an advocate at CASA, created SPARKodc, Social Partners Advocating a Resilient Kentucky Owensboro-Daviess County through a grant by Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA).
Identifying limitations within the community and contacting agencies and individuals to brainstorm ideas and then bring those ideas to fruition, SPARKodc directors found that at every meeting, one of the universal problems for this community was its lack of agencies, in a single location.
Evans-Smith said that many of their clients at CASA, along with clients of other agencies, often have needs beyond one service. For example, the mother who is applying for WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children who also needs prenatal care for herself. But since the two agencies are not located close to each other and the mother does not have transportation for both, one isn’t used.
“We came up with the idea, to provide access to nonprofit services, which helps get to the root of the issues and to have no more silos,” Evans-Smith said, referencing the term used to describe departments or agencies that do not share information with other agencies.
Several members of SPARKodc went to Louisville, Ky., to learn about Neighborhood Place, a national program that brings services and resources together to create a network of community-based service centers.
Evans-Smith said that within the Neighborhood Place program, having a universal intake form from an individual requesting services that all agencies share and one confidentiality form was crucial.
Another aspect of the program they found beneficial was what Neighborhood Place programs call the warm handoff, or the transfer of care or services between agencies. With agencies being in the same location, one provider could take the client to another, helping to coordinate resources and services.
“This idea increases the ease of the service and lets providers work together,” Evans-Smith said
In May 2019, SPARKodc, applied for a grant from Kosair Charities, and in June learned they received funding to open The Center, a community-focused project that is designed to provide a central resource for organizations serving families and children in Owensboro and Daviess County. It is a matching grant, which allows the community to be invested.
“We are so excited to see it come full circle,” Evans-Smith said. “This is so much bigger than SPARKodc.”
Erica Wade will be the director at The Center, and SPARKodc will be a project under The Center.
Evans-Smith said that tremendous support has come from RiverValley Behavioral Health, which is making a significant match, including in-kind support since The Center will be located at Cigar Factory Mall where RiverValley is located.
Wade said the location really couldn’t be better as it is centrally located and on the city transit routes.
Along with established connectivity of services for the community, which Wade said she hopes to have weekly, there is also a family visitation space, which will allow families with children currently experiencing out-of-the-home placement a safe, neutral environment where supervised visits may take place.
“CPS [Child Protective Services] is excited for us to have this area, because the cabinet [Kentucky Cabinet for Child Protective Services] is always looking for places [for court-ordered supervised visits],” Evans-Smith said. “Kids thrive when they are with their family.”
Wade will assume her directorship full time in September, and The Center is scheduled to open in October.
“We know that it is about building relationships, but we really know it is about networking,” Evans-Smith said.