Family Resource Center proposed


The Aberdeen Community Center will become the nucleus of a network of family social services under a plan introduced by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

The Family Resource Center, which Mrs. Rehrmann described as "a concept" as much as a physical entity, would connect various public sources of assistance and make them more accessible to needy families, particularly to adolescents in the Aberdeen area.

"This will bring together a network of services, from the Board of Education to the Department of Social Services, Juvenile Services and the Health Department," said the executive, who has allocated $30,000 of the county's fiscal 1994 budget to the project.

"Too often people get bounced around or they don't know what services are available to them. This will be a community-based project, where we try to reach out to those we know are in need."

Chief among the center's beneficiaries will be adolescent mothers and their preschool children. Among other things, Mrs. Rehrmann said, the center will sponsor parenting classes for those teen-agers and lead them to other sources of assistance, including health care, child care and educational and employment possibilities.

The Community Center, a former high school on Route 40 at Franklin Street, houses a wide range of county agencies. It was targeted for the pilot program because it is already home to many of the services used by needy Aberdeen families, county officials said.

The Aberdeen branch of the Harford County Health Department, which serves the largest segment of the public of any of the tenants, has been in the building nearly 20 years. It conducts 12 regular clinics in maternity care, child health, family planning and immunization, among other services.

The building also houses: offices and programs of the Aberdeen Parks and Recreation Department; the Susquehanna Private Industry Council, a job-training program; Project Head Start for preschoolers; the federally sponsored WIC nutrition program; a Veterans Administration counseling service; Harford Community College classrooms; and the Aberdeen Boys and Girls Club.

Mrs. Rehrmann said the $30,000 seed money will be used for start-up costs and for leverage in applying for further funding. She said the county already has applied for a $150,000 grant from Friends of the Family, a private, nonprofit organization that works to strengthen families with children under 4.

The Baltimore-based Friends, founded in 1986, raises money from state grants and private sources to help finance family support centers throughout the state. It currently supports 14 community-based centers, including five in Baltimore City, and offers them technical assistance and evaluations.

Each center operates differently, said Kathleen Ward, the group's development director, but all offer continuing education classes to teen-age mothers as well as classes in parenting skills. Children under 4 are cared for by a professional staff while their mothers are in class, she said.

Harford's decision to focus on Aberdeen as a pilot site grew out of a statewide survey initiated by Friends of the Family and based on 1990 census data, said Cheryl Worthington, county director of community services.

That survey revealed that the Aberdeen area had one of the highest levels of poverty among young families in the state, second only to Baltimore City, she said.

Among other things, the survey measured Aberdeen's ratio of births to never-married young females, the percentage of children under age 5 living in poverty, the median household income, the percentage of families on public assistance and the percentage of high school dropouts.

County officials said that the center's emphasis on adolescents is critical, but that it is only the beginning of its potential.

"The point is, instead of looking at an individual in need, we want to look at the entire family," Mrs. Worthington said. "If a juvenile in trouble with the law comes in to Juvenile Services, we need to find out about the rest of his family. We need to ask are there other services this family needs -- like health care or financial assistance -- to keep it from going into crisis."

Larry Klimovitz, county director of administration, said the building has "more than enough room" for the family center as well as the current tenants.

"It's just a matter of getting everybody in the best place for them," said Mr. Klimovitz, who recently led county officials on a tour of the old building.

He said only the Harford County Historical Society records, which have been stored in three old classrooms, would be permanently removed.

The community center, which originated as an elementary school and later became Aberdeen High School, was built in 1908 and was enlarged in the 1920s and again in the 1930s. Its use as a school ended in 1973, and it was turned over to the county the next year.

The building has been undergoing improvements since 1991, when an air conditioning system was installed and the heating system replaced. Its electrical work is now being brought up to code requirements.

Mr. Klimovitz said that the building is budgeted for roof repairs in fiscal 1994 and that the county has applied for a federal grant for an elevator to make it handicapped-accessible. In addition, it needs extensive interior renovations to reallocate space and painting and other cosmetic repairs.

In particular, the Health Department, which has been squeezed into three rooms, needs more space, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

The next stage of work, once a floor plan is completed, should begin by fall, Mr. Klimovitz said.

He said a coordinator for the family center probably would be named by then.

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