About a year ago, an "incubator for ideas" called Care for Children formed in Daviess County. Already, it has started several good-sized projects, including SPARKodc and the Emerson Academy Resilience Network.

CASA of Ohio Valley board members founded Care for Children because they recognized gaps in community services outside of CASA's narrow mission, which provides court-appointed advocates for children going through the legal system.

Care for Children is its own entity with a separate board of directors. Members are Rosemary Conder, Ashley Evans-Smith, Charlotte Burton, Sarah Howard, Erica Wade, Linda Wahl and Diane McFarling.

Networking, brainstorming and partnering are second nature to Care for Children, said Wahl, the group's chairwoman.

"Care for Children is a coordinated network," she said. "I think of it as an umbrella of people committed to changing children's lives, providing hope and providing resiliency."

Although it formed only a year ago, the nonprofit already has several irons in the fire.

First, SPARKodc is an offshoot of Care for Children. Social Partners Advocating for a Resilient Kentucky -- Owensboro-Daviess County started in August 2018. SPARKodc is a national pilot program to end adverse childhood experiences.

In less than a year, the program has surveyed the community, conducted workshops and set up monthly brainstorming sessions that seek solutions to problems at-risk families confront daily.

In addition to spinning off SPARKodc, Care for Children's seven-member board has written two grants in hopes of opening The Center, a community hub for one-stop assistance and information. Presently, low-income residents travel between churches and agencies in search of food, utility assistance, clothes, housing, transportation and other forms of assistance. The Center is expected to reduce the need to crisscross town in search of help.

Additionally, the Center would provide a visitation room for foster children to meet with their parents in a safe, home-like atmosphere.

Care for Children officials hope to learn in July if their grant applications have been successful. The Center's future depends on earning grants.

Care for Children's newest project is the Emerson Academy Resilience Network. The pilot program pulls together Owensboro Public Schools, Independence Bank, business leaders and organizations to ensure 10 at-risk seniors graduate high school and earn the necessary life skills for college or work.

The Emerson Academy, formerly known as Gateway Academy, is an alternative high school with about 100 students. It will open at the beginning of the next academic year in a renovated building on 11th Street. The Care for Children pilot program will pair the select group of teens with community mentors and incentivize attendance.

Building Stronger Families, TheraTree Pediatric Therapy Services, Independence Bank and RiverValley Behavioral Health are among the groups expected to team up to provide instruction and other services, Wahl said.

"Community partnerships for any educational institution are critical," said Kevin Thompson, OPS director of alternative schools.

Working with non-educators gives students an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience outside an educational setting, Thompson said. "One of our goals at the Emerson Academy is to give our students experiences they wouldn't ordinarily have."

The pilot program started after Care for Children board members met with academy officials to ask how they could help, he said. The group brainstormed areas of need, and absenteeism bubbled to the surface.

"Care for Children is, for lack of a better term, the incubator for ideas," Conder said. "We want to engage community partners to increase communication and awareness of programs and services in order to help break down barriers, improve access and outcomes, and bring stakeholders together."

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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