Partners in Service gets families back on their feet

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Over the past year, Partners in Service, a partnership of faith communities, businesses and social service agencies, has served more than 1,000 families. These families benefit in many ways, but at its core, the program is designed to support at-risk children.

“It is a program for children at risk,” said Barbara Martin of Family Service of R.I. “Whenever you have families with risk factors and a lot of stress, it affects the children. When we get the parents back to a more stable situation, then the kids start to rise up as the family rises up.”

Partners in Service (PINS) was launched last year by the Family Care Community Partnership, an arm of Family Service of Rhode Island that serves the communities of Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Cranston.

Martin heads the Family Care Community Partnership and saw an opportunity to expand services. She previously worked in Vermont, where she saw a program like PINS and decided to develop something similar here.

While Family Service of R.I. and partner agencies provide social services and resources, PINS stepped in to cover basic needs, like clothing.

“The Family Care Community Partnership is actually a state-contracted program that works with families on multiple risk factors that can limit their capacity to keep their families safe and healthy,” Martin said. “Part of that process is pulling together a table of formal and natural supports.”

PINS leans heavily on the natural community supports, like faith-based communities. In Cranston, Temple Sinai has signed on to the program as one of 13 congregations in the four municipalities.

“We’re here not just for our own personal religious needs. It’s something that fits very well with a lot of our social justice efforts,” said Rabbi Peter Stein.

Many faiths are represented, however, and the Rev. Dr. Donald Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, also supports the program.

“The PINS initiative is really not about a specific religious tradition,” Martin said, adding that member families do have the option to select a church or faith, and can join the congregation if they so choose. “If they have a preference, we can do that, or if they do have a church already that’s great, they have that support.”

The program works through referrals, and families are often referred directly through Family Service of R.I. Referrals also come from DCYF, schools or other service agencies. In order to be eligible, a family must have one or more children, and those children are either at-risk for abuse or neglect, have a mental illness or in some cases are coming from the training school.

Once an at-risk family in the urban core is identified, they are paired with a PINS staff member. There are 40 staffers altogether, including 28 facilitators.

“Each of one of our staff members is paired with a congregation and that congregation kind of adopts that caseload of families,” Martin explained.

The staff member will identify a need for the family and then reach out to the congregation. The issue could be as small as lack of a dining room table in one instance, or more significant, like the immediate need for financial assistance to cover heating costs.

“That congregation will put the word out. It’s really based on action,” Martin said.

Stein noted one instance where his congregation quickly put together funds to pay for a funeral for one family’s relative.

“We rose to the challenge and were able to support them with donations,” he said.

Charitable work is nothing new at Temple Sinai, but Rabbi Stein believes the program is particularly effective because members of his synagogue get to know the story of the family they’re helping. It isn’t an anonymous donation; it’s a contribution to a single family living right in their community.

“I think what it does is it personalizes it; it helps us avoid the ‘us versus them’ mentality,” he said. “This is about fellow members of the community and the fact is we all have had difficult times. My congregants are like everybody else and it’s been a very vulnerable couple years. It will strengthen something which is already there, which is viewing themselves as a contributing partner of the city.”

Regardless of the specific need in any given month, Martin says PINS support helps families to focus on what’s important: raising happy and healthy children.

“Certainly economics plays a part. When families don’t have work, they can’t pay for heat, they can’t pay for food and those stressors become very primary,” she said.

Those stressors, she continued, can increase risks for domestic violence and substance abuse.

Stakeholders celebrated the one-year anniversary of PINS at an appreciation breakfast on June 14, and also talked about the future of the program.

Martin hopes that member families will begin to immerse themselves in the communities more, whether it is joining a congregation or giving back to other PINS families.

“It affords an opportunity for families to give back once they’re on their feet,” Martin said. “We all have hard times. When we’re back on our feet, we give back. For me, and for the wraparound philosophy, reciprocity is really important. At the bottom of this is generosity of spirit.”

To make a referral to PINS, call Family Service of R.I.’s intake number at 331-1350.

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