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Storyteller Serves Community’s Growing Number of Homeless Families

Children from families with poverty-level incomes find a place of their own

For more than two decades, Storyteller Children’s Center has provided quality, tuition-free preschool and comprehensive support services for homeless and at-risk families. Throughout the years, the families Storyteller serves have faced many challenges, but none of the magnitude they face today. These are tough economic times and even tougher for families already down on their luck. As the economic crisis deepens, homelessness is predicted to increase. Storyteller’s waiting list of children will continue to grow. More and more families will be turning to them for help.

For several years, Storyteller operated at a maximum capacity of 42 children at its 2115 State St. school with a long waiting list of children needing services but no ability to serve them. Then in 2007, the Orfalea Fund purchased a second preschool site, at 2121 De la Vina St., and is leasing it to Storyteller rent-free for 10 years. The second school has allowed Storyteller to increase its daily enrollment to 68 children from 42. The nonprofit organization plans to continue enrolling children as resources permit.

The children who attend Storyteller are from families with poverty-level incomes, and more than 70 percent are from single-parent households. They live in shelters, cars or other extremely crowded, substandard conditions. Half are from families experiencing domestic violence or substance abuse. Many have significant special needs, such as behavior problems, delayed speech and health troubles — problems that, if untreated, would only worsen over time.

“Along with an increase in homelessness, we are seeing an increase in the number of Storyteller students who have developmental delays,” said Storyteller executive director Terri Allison.

To learn how to best help these children, Allison recently enrolled in an Infant-Parent Mental Health Post-Graduate Certificate Program offered through the University of Massachusetts Boston.

“Educational opportunities like these,” Allison said, “are an excellent way for communities like Santa Barbara to increase infant and early childhood mental-health service capacity and build local leadership expertise.”

Storyteller Children's Center has room for 68 children but could use space for a lot more.
Storyteller Children’s Center has room for 68 children but could use space for a lot more. (Domenica Tafolla photo)

Storyteller has also recently incorporated a reflective supervision program to help its teachers in their work with special-needs children. The program is designed to help them better manage their feelings, develop coping mechanisms, and be more responsive to the children and families with whom they work.

“We are very excited about integrating reflective supervision into our program,” Allison said. “This collaborative process between teachers adds depth and multiple perspectives that will aid in tackling challenges and problem solving.”

Meanwhile, Storyteller’s free Third Annual StoryFaire will be held April 26 at All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 83 Eucalyptus Lane. StoryFaire brings together children’s authors and illustrators and the public for storytelling by local authors, music, crafts and refreshments. The event is free. For more information, e-mail Victoria Juarez at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or call 805.687.4530.

Click here for more information about Storyteller Children’s Center or to make a donation to its Campaign for the Future, or call the development office at 805.687.4530.

Melissa Marsted is a Noozhawk contributor, author and freelance writer. Denise Hinkle is development director at Storyteller Children’s Center.

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