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Fueled by a new influx of cash from Auction Napa Valley, the UpValley Family Centers are getting ready for another year of helping local residents deal with social and economic challenges.

Earlier this month, The Napa Valley Vintners announced it was distributing $6 million worth of Auction Napa Valley proceeds to 17 local nonprofits. The UpValley Family Centers received $324,000.

“Without Auction Napa Valley it would be a much bigger challenge to serve families,” said Jenny Ocon, executive director of the Family Centers. “They provide general operating support, which is extremely helpful because it allows us to be flexible and use the funds where we need them.”

Between the $324,000 grant and a separate $60,000 grant from the Napa Valley Vintners’ Early Learning Initiative, the vintners account for about 23 percent of the Family Centers’ $1.7 million budget.

The grant will fund a broad range of programs from domestic violence counseling to tax preparation to youth mentorship. It will also help the Family Centers address “emerging needs in the community,” Ocon said.

For example, given what’s happening at the federal and state levels, Ocon expects a lot of questions about health insurance, immigration and California’s legalization of marijuana, which could result in more youth using it.

“As potential policies may change in the coming year that may affect our clients, we’ll be the place where people will come for answers,” Ocon said.

In Calistoga, where there’s a large population of students classified as English language learners, the Family Centers runs an early childhood education and school readiness program for those from 3 to 5, funded through Napa Valley Vintners’ Early Learning Initiative.

Older students can participate in CLARO and CLARA, mentoring programs geared toward Latino youth and overseen by the Family Centers.

The Family Centers also offer parenting education, sometimes based on referrals from Child Protective Services. Staff accredited by the Triple P Positive Parenting Program train parents on how to deal with problems in a positive and effective way.

Adults also come to the Family Centers for help accessing health insurance, obtaining citizenship, filing their taxes through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, and or dealing with an abusive partner. In partnership with Napa Emergency Women’s Services, the Family Centers provided domestic violence counseling to 35 people last year from St. Helena, Calistoga and Angwin.

The Family Centers also serve seniors, especially in Calistoga, where almost 300 seniors were provided help with health insurance, legal services, counseling, caregiver support and financial assistance.

The Family Centers often help families with multiple problems. For example, Ocon said a recently divorced mom came in looking for counseling for her three kids (ages 4, 7 and 12) who were struggling with the divorce. The Family Centers connected the kids to counseling services, provided Triple P parenting support for the mom, and helped her find a more affordable apartment in St. Helena for $1,000 less than the $2,500 she’d been paying for a two-bedroom unit.

As Christmas approached, the Family Center staff helped the mom complete an application for the Season of Sharing program, which helped her receive financial assistance for a deposit and first month’s rent on the new apartment.

“She is now able to pay her monthly expenses and her kids are doing better,” Ocon said.

Through the Family Centers’ Community Connections Program, staff can also connect clients with outside services. The bilingual and bicultural staff who run that program have to know not only which resources are available, but how to communicate with clients about what are often very personal and private matters.

“We’re a place where people can feel comfortable to ask a question and get a service they might not even know about,” Ocon said. “They might come in for one thing, like to pay a bill, and then find out that we have another service they want to take advantage of, like filing their taxes for free.”

However, the Family Centers also need volunteers, Ocon said. The annual VITA program is launching soon, and the Family Centers will train volunteers to help people file their tax returns. There are many other opportunities to volunteer throughout the year, Ocon said.

For more information, visit UpvalleyFamilyCenters.org or call 963-1919.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.