Recently, a boy who had been coming to Ogden’s free summer lunch program confided that there was no running water at his house. Secily was the right person in the right place—she met with him and his family to help them find options, not just for utility payments, but also to provide school supplies, new shoes for the school year, and any other support they needed.
This story exemplifies Secily’s approach in her job as the new Family and Youth Specialist at Mt. Ogden Junior High. “I really want the families and students to know that the school isn’t just a place where the kids come for school, but if they’re struggling with anything they can get help here,” she said. Secily’s job is to connect students and families with existing community resources—from filling basic needs like food and clothing to health, transportation, tutoring, or even an interest in volunteer work.
Amost 2/3 of the students at Mt. Ogden live in poverty. Many of their needs aren’t apparent, but as the students get to know teachers and staff, they often confide in them. Secily began working at the school in spring of 2017; teachers can send students to meet with her, both for immediate help and also to address long-term needs. Through these referrals, Secily has been able to provide help at school, and she has also spent time going on home visits to assess families’ needs.
Many of Secily’s home visits were to help kids enroll in summer school and make up missing credits, especially students with Spanish-speaking parents. “I think the barrier with these parents is they just don’t know how the school system works,” she said, so she helps the families understand “how the school system works and how to get their credit back,” so the students can stay on track for graduation.
One of Secily’s new projects for the coming school year is a Sunshine Closet, which some schools throughout the Ogden School District already have. The cupboards are stocked with hygiene supplies like toothpaste and soap, as well as food and a few items of clothing. Secily explained that “during the day, teachers will sometimes send kids to the counselors’ office because they have hygiene issues, or girls need feminine products; there’s nothing available and they don’t have anything at home. Having that emergency supply for kids who are in need during the school day will be helpful.” Catholic Community Services has also provided pantry packs full of easy to prepare food, which Secily can send home with kids she knows won’t have any food on the weekend. She can also provide clothing and shoe vouchers as needed.
Funded by the Utah Partnership for Student Success Grant, and administered by the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood, Secily is helping students overcome barriers to success and move toward graduation. The ultimate goal is to help break cycles of intergenerational poverty and build a better community for everyone. Starting with the most basic needs, Secily wants to make the school “a safe, inviting place for the whole family unit—I want the whole family to be supported.” United Way is proud to be a partner in supporting families and opening doors for opportunity to all students.