The Initial Concept -- An Agency To “Link” Families to Social Services
The inspiration for the LINCS Center came from the school principals in the Wilson Area School District. Because of a recent influx of at-risk students from outside the area, teachers have seen more children in their classrooms who are hungry, pregnant, homeless, suffering from illness or addiction, living without insurance or medical care, trying to cope with broken families, or facing violence in the home or on the streets. It was the school principals who first recognized the pressing need to help these struggling children and their families.
In 2010, the principals made an urgent appeal to the Wilson Area School Board. Imagine, they said, trying to teach a six-year-old boy to read when he cannot hear most of what is said in the classroom, and his parents are afraid to tell the school about his problem. Imagine giving a weekend assignment on quadratic equations to a boy who will have no food to eat until he returns to school on Monday. Imagine trying to discipline a tenth-grade girl for skipping class, only to learn that her father has gone to prison for murdering her mother, that she has just had a baby, and that she and her little sister are taking turns staying home to care for the infant. Such children, they said, may be suffering from grief, depression, or anxiety and may have no idea how to care for themselves. Such children, they said, cannot learn until their basic needs have been met. The principals urged the School Board to hire a family-services director to advise these struggling children and their families where to turn for food, clothing, housing, insurance, medical care, crisis counseling, and information on health and wellness. Listening to these heartbreaking stories, the School Board members knew they had to reach out and embrace these children.
Because there was no room in the Wilson Area School District budget to hire a family- services director, the School Board turned to the community for help. The School Board formed a design team made up of School Board members, the principals, and other school administrators to propose a structure for a new family center to be supported with private funding.
The design team created the name “LINCS” (“Linking Individual Needs with Community Services”) and drafted its mission statement: to provide a compassionate and sensitive neighborhood resource that will empower Wilson area families by linking them to direct, comprehensive programs addressing social, emotional and physical well-being and by providing educational assistance and resources needed to raise healthy children and enhance all residents’ quality of life.
Over the next year, the design team invited local leaders from business, government, and community service organizations to form a Board of Directors for the new family center. We received an enthusiastic response. All agreed that the community must help its most vulnerable families.
Evolution from Referral Agency to Family Center
People in the community told us they wanted the LINCS Center to go beyond just providing referrals. They said they wanted the LINCS Center create its own programs addressing a broad range of needs across all age groups and income levels.
Students told us they needed after-school tutoring and help with homework. Parents said they needed babysitting, adult education classes, and reasonably-priced activities like family movie nights. Seniors told us they needed health screenings, transportation to medical appointments, and someone to teach them how to use a computer. People of all ages told us they needed programs on fitness and nutrition.
They said they would like to be able to use the Intermediate School’s gym and swimming pool. We discovered that we had tapped into a broader range of needs than we had expected.
It was clear that responding to this broader range of needs would require significant funding and help from dedicated volunteers. But the LINCS Center’s Board of Directors was convinced it could be done. We saw a community bursting with enthusiasm for the project, and we started working to make it a reality.
Although the Wilson Area School District could not add a family-services director to its annual budget, the School District was able to provide a physical location for the center. The School District had recently demolished the old Philip F. Lauer Middle School and was almost finished building the new Wilson Area Intermediate School.
Thanks to careful cost management, there was still money left in the budget for the building project. The School Board decided to use that money to create a family center.
Work began immediately. Over the last few months of 2011, construction crews outfitted the old Philip F. Lauer cafeteria with offices, a conference room, a bathroom, new flooring, an exercise area, and fitness equipment. A storage room was converted into a family thrift store and food bank. The conference room doubled as a family reading and reference room, and an adjoining office was turned into an activity room where young children could play while their parents consulted with the LINCS Center staff. Local residents watched with anticipation as the vision took shape.
The next step was to hire a Director. In early 2012, the Board hired Heidi Markow, known for her work with the Beginning Over Foundation, to be the LINCS Center Director. The position was part time and paid a salary of $25,000 per year. Ms. Markow organized the LINCS Center’s grand opening (attended by almost 500 people), secured donations to stock the thrift store and food bank, started selling memberships to the fitness center, implemented several fitness and nutrition programs, and began working with local families in need. She also recruited a group of volunteers to staff the facility, including her assistant, Patrick Messman. After six months, family obligations required Ms. Markow to step down, and Mr. Messman took over as Director. He has continued to operate the facility, manage the volunteer work force, and develop new programs. Although the Director’s position is part time, Mr. Messman works full-time hours.