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1 year later: How Familias Seguras is keeping at-risk kids on track for success

Here’s a look at how the Familias Seguras or Secure Families program is providing an extra layer of support to at risk kids throughout the community
Posted at 11:22 AM, Nov 04, 2023

Karla Corona is a 13-year-old student at Fesler Junior High School, and she was feeling a little lost.

“I was fighting, I was bad behavior, I had bad grades, I wasn't trying so hard in school,” Corona said. “I didn't want to come to school because of some troubles I was facing. ”

Her mother, Graciela Galarza, said she was concerned about her daughter’s mental health.

Galarza said it's hard to keep up as a single mom of three who works long hours out in the fields and she was extremely worried about Karla, who wasn’t eating or sleeping.

That's when CommUnify’s pilot program Familias Seguras, or Secure Families, intervened.

“A child is referred through the Santa Maria-Bonita School District and also the Santa Barbara County Office of Education,” explained Xavier Escamilla, who is CommUnify’s Familias Seguras Program Manager. “Eligibility requires for them to be going through some challenges regarding fighting gang involvement, they may be experimenting with alcohol or drug abuse, or also missing school, truancy. ”

According to CommUnify, the program started in 2022 and is currently serving around 60 at-risk students between the 5th and 8th grades.

“CommUnify was awarded a three-year grant on behalf of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Program to address the rising root causes of violence in the city of Santa Maria,” said Natalia Alarcon, CommUnify’s Family and Youth Services Department Director.

Alarcon said that the grant was nearly $2.6 million.

“It takes a village to really help a student to be successful, and this is that level of support that is helping those students be successful,” said Brian Zimmerman, Student and Family Services Director for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District.

The students are not the only ones involved. It is a holistic approach that includes parents and siblings.

“We definitely support them with parenting groups,” Escamilla explained. “We provide other resources for them if they are going through hardships such as financial literacy courses.”

The goal is to keep students in the program for 12 to 18 months.

“We go to the Santa Barbara Zoo, we go out to the beach, we also take them kayaking,” Escamilla added.

Familias Seguras is supporting schools within the Santa Maria-Bonita School District and Santa Barbara County Education Office (SBCEO). A school with a large number of at-risk youth is the Peter B. Fitzgerald Community School.

“Fitzgerald serves students who are, who need an intervention and they are in danger of failing or dropping out of school or maybe even have been expelled from their home school, so we provide a smaller setting for students and we have intensive counseling, support for them to help get them back on the right track,” explained Rene Wheeler, SBCEO’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools Director.

Wheeler said the Familias Seguras program is making a difference among the families they serve.

“I would say one of the most immediate benefits was the mentorship that is provided,” Wheeler added. “We have the mentors coming on campus one time, sometimes two times a week to meet with the students. ”

CommUnify is hoping to expand this program to Lompoc and Santa Barbara.

“I promise and I know that there is help out there,” Corona said.

The bond between Corona and her mom is growing stronger.

“This program has helped me and my mom like be more respectful to each other and get closer and do so much stuff together,” she said.

If you want to learn more about programs run by CommUnify, click here.