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A friend to island families: Orcas Family Connections assists locals hit hard by economy

As the Family Support Specialist of Orcas Island’s resource center, Erin O’Dell sees it all.

A sample of her clients includes a single dad who is living in a motorhome with his teenage son; a mother of two young children who was evicted; and a family being torn apart by meth, domestic violence, and poverty.

“If you need something and you don’t know where to go for it, you can come here,” said O’Dell, who runs Orcas Family Connections (OFC) from an office at Children’s House. “I don’t have all the answers to everything, but I can find someone who does.”

She says islanders have been coming to her in higher numbers since the fall.

“Families have been coming for food and rental assistance,” O’Dell said. “People are out of work or have had their hours cut. There just aren’t jobs in construction right now. A lot of single parents are struggling to make ends meet.”

OFC is the go-to organization for islanders who need guidance on local resources. O’Dell refers her clients to organizations like OPALCO, Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services, and OPAL Land Trust (which administers both rental and energy assistance). She also assists with pre-school enrollment and applications to state programs.

“We can help families with applications for food, medical or child care assistance through the Department of Social and Health Services,” O’Dell said. “We follow up to make sure they receive benefits. If you have DSHS medical insurance already, and you have appointments off island, we can get vouchers for ferry tickets.”

OFC delivers food bank items to families who are working durring the hours it is open, and every year, in conjunction with the public school, OFC hands out coats purchased by Island Hardware.

If anyone has coats or clothes to donate, they can be dropped off at the OFC office. Baby and children’s items are particularly in need. In addition, both Aurora’s and Cherry T’s consignment have an OFC account. O’Dell asks locals to consider dropping off clothes under the OFC name, so funds go directly towards those in need.

“A big issue is that we just can’t help everyone,” O’Dell said. “We don’t have emergency housing. We don’t have shelters. We don’t have long-term rental assistance ... Families are having to band together right now. We are seeing more multigenerational living situations.”

How to help

To donate to Orcas Family Connections, mail a check to PO Box 931, Eastsound, WA 98245. To volunteer, for information about donating specific items, or to become a board member, call Erin O’Dell at 376-5780.

Orcas Family Connections will be moving into Kaleidoscope’s new wing, which is slated to be done by early 2011. Kaleidoscope is relying entirely on volunteer hours to build the expansion. To lend a hand or donate materials, call Amber Paulsen at 376-2484. Kaleidoscope is offering a sneak peek of its expansion on Tuesday, Dec. 14 from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Day in the life of a single parent on Orcas Island

“Stephen” says his main goal is to keep his two children healthy and happy.

As the single father of two pre-school children, he feels lucky to have a network of Orcas community members who help him out.

“I have a lot of resources that I use; most of them are people who live in our community: my father – he has really stepped up to the plate, he comes over every morning before I leave for work, does breakfast and takes them to school ... and (I have) a whole network of people who transfer the kids to Kaleidoscope,” said Stephen (not his real name).

He says Erin O’Dell of Orcas Family Connections “always seems to be there – to call at the right time.”

O’Dell made sure Stephen’s daughter received a winter coat and shoes, she fills out paperwork for state insurance, and often stops by their house, just to see how the family is doing.

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