Student outreach program, Communities in Schools, was forced to switch its focus this year from primarily academic assistance to emergency help during the coronavirus pandemic in order to provide local students and their families with food, clothing and mental health care.

“We had to change our ways and what we’re doing to help,” CIS Board member Harry Priesmeyer said. “There’s a lot more mental health issues that people are experiencing at home and strife. It’s pretty tough.”

The local Tri-County CIS program serves students in Wharton, Colorado and Matagorda counties. CIS began its local outreach about a year ago to help students in El Campo, Van Vleck, Rice Consolidated and Bay City ISD. This year, Wharton ISD was added.

The program offers a wide variety of assistance to students, based on their individual needs, targeting those in rural areas who have few available resources. Typically program staff work with community members who volunteer their time or services, such as a doctor providing free exams for students or a volunteer providing tutoring.

“Each child may have a different need,” Priesmeyer said. “One may need eyeglasses, one may need mental health (help), one (may need) food. There’s no limit. What we strive to do, and why we need the support of the community, is to find community donors.”

CIS staff handles about 150 cases, but due to the pandemic, the case load for El Campo ISD Site Coordinator Marisol Figirova had to be reduced to about 85. The site coordinators are the first line of contact for students to the CIS program. “When they find a need, then we should have complete access (for the students) to the available resources out there that can answer any of the needs,” Priesmeyer said.

In September, at ECISD, CIS worked with the Golden Crescent Food Bank of Victoria to help provide meals to students. CIS also focused on students at El Campo Middle School who were in need of better internet access in order to complete their remote learning education.

The role of CIS has evolved during the pandemic. Funds donated from local organizations and foundations have been relied on to supply students and families with essential items after many parents lost their jobs.

“In Bay City, (CIS staff) went to check on a parent, and it was a single father with two kids living in a home with no electricity or food.”

The CIS Southeast Harris and Brazoria County branch, which oversees the local Tri-county program, is made up of two non-profit organizations.

Monetary donations and volunteers are welcome from the local community. For more information on the local CIS program, visit cistxjv.org.

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