Pajaro Valley School District Launches Expansion of Family and Student Services – Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE — Dozens more community support groups are expected to begin offering services in the coming weeks at the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Wellness Center, which is kicking off the expansion with a groundbreaking celebration Friday after- midday.

“Our most vulnerable families usually have a fairly complex situation, which means they need more than one service,” said PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez. “It allows them to have a one-stop shop.”

The inaugural event is scheduled from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday.

Since late last year, the Family Engagement and Wellness Center at 530 Palm Ave. in Watsonville has provided services including food assistance from the Second Harvest Food Bank, social and emotional support for students through prevention and student aid in Pajaro Valley, health care through Salud Para la Gente, mental health counseling for students and their families provided by a district clinician, and tutoring and housing assistance through the Community Action Council.

Second Harvest’s food co-op is like a small no-cost grocery store, with dry goods, plus a refrigerated section for dairy and eggs, said Second Harvest director of development Suzanne Willis.

With the services offered at the center now, and many more to come, the food co-op will function as a “hook” to attract students and families, Willis said. “You come for the free groceries, but find out what can help support your family,” Willis said.

For families who don’t have access to kitchens, the wellness center has partnered with nonprofit Martha’s Kitchen to provide frozen and hot meals, Rodriguez said.

That offer grew out of feedback from families, as did vouchers and coins for laundry at a new laundromat nearby, Rodriguez said. “The point of the wellness center is to listen to what our families say they need, and to keep iterating and changing services or continuing to add services,” Rodriguez said.

Among the many groups expected to join the center soon are El Sistema, a nonprofit music education organization, and Disciplina Positiva, which helps families communicate effectively with children.
your expectations and limits, and use constructive discipline.

The more services that can be offered on a single site, the more likely families are to use them, Rodriguez said. “Transportation and time can be issues,” she said.

With the center open year-round from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, families and students in the district – which stretches from Aptos south to Elkhorn Slough – can access services when schools are closed, Rodriguez says.

The center has four buildings and a new parking lot to accommodate the expected increase in use and a Salud Para la Gente van. District Healthy Start staff welcomes families and students to an office and reception building. In another building, the Community Action Council has a gathering space for events and group sessions. A separate structure is dedicated to confidential mental health services. The food cooperative occupies the fourth building and is open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Planning for the center had been underway for about 2½ years, before the August 2021 stabbing of a 17-year-old student at Aptos High School, which led the school district board to reverse a decision a year earlier to take police “resource officers” out of schools, Rodriguez said. However, she added, “when we provide all the necessary supports and get to the root of the problems, we will see better results”.