“Comprehensive approaches to learning that includes both the families and teachers increases student attendance, decreases office referrals, and ultimately, increases their grade reading scores. These reading scores are significant benchmarks for long term success, high school graduation, and workforce opportunities. We started to build this program around really creating that connection.” – Darin Preis, Executive Director of Central Missouri Community Action 

Darin Preis, Executive Director of Central Missouri Community Action, Jennifer Klosterman, The BRIDGE Program Manager, and Beth Vossler, the Headstart Director recently sat down with us to talk about CMCA’s program, The BRIDGE, and their partnership with Heart of Missouri United Way.  

Central Missouri Community Action aims to build relationships that empower people, strengthen resilience, and improve quality of life for all members of the community through programs and services designed to move people out of poverty and into economic stability. The BRIDGE is one of their programs that does this by bringing families and school systems together. When we asked Darrin, Jennifer, and Beth about their program, this is what they had to say: 

Tell us about The BRIDGE. 

Darrin: Through The BRIDGE, we’re able to sort of act as the bond between schools and families. 

Jennifer: The BRIDGE focuses on the social emotional health of the entire family, engages teachers in activities, develops family-school relationships, and creates a community of support for parents and children. We meet with the families at least once a month and the coaching is similar to a social work approach, but, again, we really focus on the coaching piece and serving the whole family. 

We help families understand that they are their children’s primary teachers, so we try to help them see some of the natural learning opportunities in their homes. We host monthly educational events for the families and also connect them to other services and resources in the community. And, thirdly, we partner with the schools and do professional development with the teachers in the summertime teaching them about poverty, compassion fatigue, etc.  

Darrin: We go with teachers on home visits and go with families on school visits. We hope to sort of cut down on the biases that parents have, and biases that teachers in schools have. We want to help them understand that chaos in a child’s life has a huge impact on what happens at school and we’re finding that, ultimately, those relationships matter and it’s making a big difference. 

Jennifer: Through Heart of Missouri United Way funding, we recently expanded into rural areas in Cooper and Howard counties where there are not a lot of resources for these types of services. 

How are you seeing the impact of this program? 

Jennifer: This program started with one family where members of the family were depressed and struggling in a domestic violence relationship. Now, this family has received mental health services, and the mom has a job, got out of their relationship, and is actually looking to go live on their own now. We helped connect this family to services and coached them to be self-sufficient in the future.  

Beth: We also have teachers that go to home visits with us and come to education events that we have. Through these activities they’re able to build that relationship even more outside of a parent-teacher conference. They’re getting that one-on-one interaction for like 15 minutes and they get that time with their child’s teacher. Therefore, there can be more intention between the school and family relationships, like teachers can understand what kids are doing in the home and how they can help.  

Jennifer: We mentioned expanding into rural communities. As we were thinking about doing this, Beth and I looked into the child abuse and neglect rates in all CMCA service areas and used that data to figure out where our services would be most needed and effective. Cooper and Howard counties have some of the higher like family assessments and substantiated child abuse neglect cases so that’s how we decided to start going down that route. 

That’s great to hear about the impact as well as the expansion of the program. Tell us about how your partnership with Heart of Missouri United Way has played a part in this. 

Darrin: We identified a need for this program in rural areas but we couldn’t find any funding sources except for our friends at Heart of Missouri United Way, so they’ve been a fantastic partner for helping us to expand out into the rural communities in Howard and Cooper County. We wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise. 

Through our conversation with Darrin, Jennifer, and Beth, the impact of funding from Heart of Missouri United Way became clear. There is a great need for services like The BRIDGE and Heart of Missouri United Way’s commitment to bettering the mid-Missouri area makes us great partners. As Darrin said, “Being part of the network at Heart of Missouri United Way makes us a better organization.”