June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Lodi Family Center expands services by moving into former school

Lodi Family Center has moved into the former Lodi Elementary School, 301 Mill St., and its executive director said the nonprofit not only has more room but more services to offer residents.

“We were part of community meetings that were held to decide what services people need, and what the barriers were to them accessing those services, and the barriers for agencies providing services,” Lodi Family Center Executive Director Rebecca Rak said.

Lodi Family Center Executive Director Rebecca Rak shows off the newer bigger better pantry at the agency's newer bigger better home at the old Lodi Elementary School, 301 Mill St. (DAN POMPILI / GAZETTE)

Lodi Family Center Executive Director Rebecca Rak shows off the new, bigger pantry at the agency’s new home: Lodi Elementary School, 301 Mill St. (DAN POMPILI / GAZETTE)

“During those meetings, we met the landlord and he made it possible for us to move here. We didn’t think we could afford it, but he’s been working with us.”

The agency shut down its 1,800-square-foot facility at 119 Bank St. on Jan. 1, and moved into a 6,000-square-foot space on the west side of the former school.

Rak said the new building offers parking and more room to operate, making it easier to serve the more than 300 families who depend on the group’s assistance every year.

“Each of my areas of programming now has its own space,” Rak said.

“We expect this move to make it possible to serve clients more effectively.”

In addition to parking, there’s a playground and large yard, and access to a gymnasium and an auditorium.

Saturday is the grand opening for the center’s K-5 services as well as a pantry. Free lunches for students in kindergarten through fifth grade funded by the Ohio Department of Education will be offered 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The group will continue to offer its free after-school and summer programs to provide activities like the 4-H Club’s Junk Drawer Engineering & Robotics Club for kids age 10 and older.

The 5-18 Club, a program for kids in that age range, will continue parent support services, and Rak said they’ll work to raise money for a teen center upstairs. The food pantry is four times larger than at the Bank Street site and allows for a personal care room to provide nonfood items that food stamps won’t cover. That service is run in partnership with Love Inc. of Medina.

“These parents that we’re helping to get better jobs, they still need to pay for gas or have better hygiene if they go from a factory job to an office job, and they keep kids clean at school,” Rak said. “This helps them cut costs and keep up with those needs.”

She said they will implement food and nutrition programs that teach kids to eat healthier and parents to plan and make healthy meals.

“If they eat better, that means better grades, and better grades mean better self-esteem and better home life and relationships,” Rak said.

Rak said there will be cooking demonstrations for parents to learn how to make healthier meals from pantry items, food safety, and a couponing program to help stretch budgets.

“If we can teach parents skills like these, then paying that car repair bill that surprised you or having a birthday party for the kids becomes easier,” she said.

There is also a partnership with Cloverleaf Elementary School’s guidance staff to help parents help their kids prepare for school.

The agency will run summer “bridge” programs to help students retain what they learned the previous school year to avoid a lag going into the next grade.

The bigger space also provides a place for other agencies to provide specialized services in partnership with the center’s basic programs. Rak added that the facility can be a shield against negative influences.

“I’ve been running it since 2001, and I can tell you your highest risk hours are 3 to 6 p.m. after school, and while they are alone during the summer,” she said. “So this provides structure during those hours, with adult mentors and peer helpers.

The center partners with the Medina County Police Activities League — a partnership among Lodi police, Lodi Family Center and Montville police — to teach decision making and coping skills and stress and grief management.

“We want to give them tools that will help them avoid the temptation to use drugs or alcohol,” she said.

The facility was started by Family First Council in 1998 as the Lodi Resource Center. In 2004, the Oaks Family Care Center of Brunswick took over as the funding agent, and the group developed its pantry and parenting and youth development programs with grants from Family First Council.

When Oaks lost its grant, volunteers banded together to save the services and Lodi Resource Center became its own nonprofit organization last year under its current name. It’s an all-volunteer agency that runs on donations from people, churches and civic organizations.

Rak said it’s all about people helping each other.

“Families helping families is our motto. That’s the best part of coming here — watching people help other people,” she said. “It’s what we do.”

Rak said she hopes the rest of the building will be rented out to other businesses and agencies that will support and complement the center’s services.

Cloverleaf Schools sold the Lodi Elementary School building last year for $40,000 to a bidder from New York. The Medina County auditor’s website lists Lodi Holdings Inc., of Brooklyn, N.Y., as the owner.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.