A Helping Hand for Families

“I know that families have the capacity to do what’s needed if they have the knowledge of what’s out there that can help them get to a better situation. This program gives families the support I wish I had growing up watching my mom struggle,” says Jonnetta Alexander, Little Bit Student Advocate and Family Engagement (SAFE) Manager. Alexander is one of two SAFE Managers working with families through Little Bit’s new Wellness and Family Support program. Funded by the St. Louis Mental Health Board, the program rolled out in six Saint Louis Public Schools this school year, including our latest SLPS school, Sumner High.

Alexander says the goal of the program is to connect families to resources – both within and outside of Little Bit’s scope – to help break down the barriers preventing their success. “We know that impacting the family base can lead to students being more focused in school and achieving academically and social-emotionally.”

Within the schools, the SAFE Managers rely on the social worker, counselor or other staff member who can speak to the concerns of families, to refer them to the program. “After that, we get to meet with members of the family to identify which concerns are most important and the areas in which they need help,” says Alexander. “What we know is that any little bit of support helps, and we can be that little bit.”

Some of the assistance her families need, she says, are with food security, mental or physical health, transportation, clothing and toiletries, rent and utilities. With 10 years of experience in case management throughout St. Louis City and County, Alexander is “no stranger to the many resources here that can help families,” she says.

She also recently completed her Master’s degree in clinical therapy, which is an important aspect of the program. In each of the six schools, Little Bit partners with Saint Louis Counseling to provide an embedded therapist to address trauma and students’ other social-emotional needs. “We work hand in hand with the therapists and if they deem it necessary to seek therapy for the student’s family as well, a referral to the agency outside of school will be made.”

Building trust relationships with families is the most critical first step, says Alexander. “My approach is just to be a helping hand – to help push them further ahead – and I think we share a connection because I’m not just ‘assigned’ to their family, I’ve experienced the same struggles.”