written by sara freedman
If you are the parent of a baby or toddler, you know the stress of the sleep-deprived early years. When there is a lack of food, unemployment, a struggle with mental illness or drug and alcohol dependence, the stress can become overwhelming. Before young families reach a breaking point they need a pressure relief valve. Enter MountainStar Family Relief Nursery, a Central Oregon nonprofit that prevents child abuse before it happens by helping families in crisis.
There are twenty-eight relief nurseries in the state of Oregon and MountainStar operates three of them—in Bend, Madras and Prineville. The relief nursery model supports families in a number of ways. Children who are three and younger come twice a week to a therapeutic classroom, a safe and relaxing space designed to boost healthy development. When the children are in the classroom, parents have time to go to the grocery store, seek out services or simply get a break. Staff members also make regular home visits and offer parent coaching. Families are connected to community resources. And there is an emergency food pantry and a cabinet stocked with diapers for parents in immediate need. For those without a family safety net, such as a parent or grandparent, MountainStar acts as a surrogate of sorts.
The holistic program is working. Ninety-eight percent of the children enrolled remained free from confirmed cases of abuse and neglect.
“Parents tell me they can really talk to us—that we listen,” said MountainStar Program Director Jeanna Darnell. “For some parents, this is the first time they’ve ever had anyone on their team.”
Staff Extraordinaire: Roberta Maestas
Roberta Maestas is the safety net specialist at MountainStar and is the first point of contact for families wanting to enroll in the program. She visits each family at their home for intake, putting parents at ease with her warm smile. Maestas moved to Bend to retire after working for twenty-one years as a juvenile probation officer in Salem. But retirement didn’t last long. “I love working with the little ones,” she said. “They are just so precious.”
MountainStar works directly with vulnerable families in an effort to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. Learn more at mtstar.org
By the Numbers:
• More than 675 clients served each year
• Families receive 300+ contact hours each year
• 98 percent of children enrolled remain free from abuse
How You Can Help:
• Sign up for a tour
• Donate items such as formula from their wish list
• Be a fairy godparent
• Volunteer in a classroom