Do-Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers: Somerville Family Learning Collaborative

Somerville Family Learning CollaborativePhoto courtesy of the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative.

Amid growing income disparity in the city, the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC) offers a slew of free programs and services with the intent of creating an inclusive, healthy environment for underserved children and families. 

Founded in 2011, SFLC is the Family and Community Engagement Department of the Somerville Public School system. The program receives referrals from the Parent Information Center, the public school system, pediatricians, and other community programs to help it assist families from birth to adulthood. The SFLC also acts as a referral service for families who require additional or more specified care, contributing to the development of a network of community organizations in the area. 

Much of SFLC’s work is providing children and parents with essential resources for academic success and the tools to safely and comfortably raise a family. 

“There is no clear eligibility, but some families are more in need,” Fernanda Villar, the Parent Child Home Visiting Program director, explains. “Some families have lower income, lover level of education, no access to other services, those are the families that we target.”

Some programs, like the Clothing Closet, focus on basic necessities. But beyond making sure district families’ needs are being met, SFLC builds a community in which all families can actively participate and grow. The collaborative’s slogan, “Diversity is Strength,” is echoed throughout its work within a city that’s home to so many immigrant communities. 

“Everything we do is translated into four languages,” SFLC Director Nomi Davidson says. “That’s a major piece of breaking down barriers for families so that everything is accessible. The language capacity of the staff means that we really can meet the needs of multiple populations.”

Playgroups, during which children ages 0-5 are exposed to social interaction and receive developmental screening, serve as an entry point for families to explore the other services that SFLC has to offer and forge a community within the program. 

The Clothing Pantry, which offers free clothing to children, teenagers, and adults, is home to one of the most vibrant communities within SFLC. Volunteers, many of whom have used SFLC services themselves, oversee the Clothing Pantry and learn leadership skills through giving back to their community.

“The volunteers feel a sense of ownership,” Davidson explains. “They came because they used the pantry, and now they’re really involved in the leadership of it.”

Francia Reyes, the Clothing Closet liaison, adds that she teaches and practices writing and reading in Spanish with some of the Clothing Pantry volunteers, strengthening the bond between staff members and the people they serve.

Some of the collaborative’s other programs include SomerBaby, a welcome program for new parents and babies, and Parent/Guardian English classes, which allow community members to strengthen their communication skills to become more engaged in their child’s education.

The ever-evolving range of programs reflects the needs and desires of the SFLC community. Davidson says she sees SFLC functioning as a streamlined center where any services a family may need can be accessed in one place. 

“We are universal and targeted, so we really are known as a center to help any family in need,” Davidson says. “Whatever the need is, we really try to build it in.”  

SFLC has grown in recent years as community members have responded positively to their organization and requested more services, programs, and hours of operation. 

“Families are constantly asking for more hours of Playgroups, more days of the week, programs on the weekend, and they want evening programming,” Playgroup coordinator Michelle Laskey explains.

“We were wary about expanding our services because of not having enough funding, but we’ve grown tremendously in the last five years,” Davidson says. “I think people just want more of our services. And, as Somerville has become a more activist community, there is programming happening throughout the city by multiple organizations. So we never want to duplicate what’s already happening, we collaborate.”

SFLC gets funding from grants, the public school department, and the City of Somerville, and also receives donations from community members who recognize the collaborative’s pivotal role in aiding Somerville families and making them feel at home.

Davidson says she feels lucky to have the opportunity to give back to so many families in the Somerville community and feel their appreciation firsthand.

“We’ve been really embraced,” Davidson says. “It feels like a gift to work in this community because whenever we’ve wanted to add a service because of the changing needs, it’s been embraced. I think we’ve inspired other groups.”

The Somerville Family Learning Collaborative is located at 42 Prescott St. For more information, call (617) 625-6600 x6966.

This story originally appeared in the Voices of the City issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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