Interactive database offers access to programs, knowledge for children and caregivers
With children returning to school this week, parents may be searching for programs, services, and activities coming up, as well as facts and advice about general developmental issues.
City government, in partnership with its community of educators, caregivers, and service providers, has developed a website, the Somerville Hub, that provides a one-stop site for information and support for children from birth to high school.
The Hub began in 2014 as a static list, mostly focusing on early childhood. In 2017, it was expanded to serve youth of all ages and their families. It now includes everything from in-school to after-school programs, summer and vacation programs, library and other community events, and all kinds of “places to go.” It also includes critical social service information, such as basic-needs assistance, healthcare services, housing aid, legal support, immigrant services, and much more.
Now the Hub has been expanded again with the addition of an interactive search engine called Somerville Hub Connect—which allows community members to search for any type of local resources related to kids and families. The goal is to provide equitable access to programs, services, and knowledge.
“Somerville is economically, linguistically, and culturally diverse,” explained Chris Hosman, director of SomerPromise, the city agency that supports the Somerville Hub. “We’re hoping that the Somerville Hub Connect is able to eliminate the barriers to programming, so that all programming is made more accessible for Somerville families.”
Hosman said the Hub Connect is still new and “a work in progress.” He encourages residents to try it out and send in feedback about how it works.
Recognizing that some residents may have trouble accessing the website, SomerPromise recently created the full-time position of Youth and Family Resource Navigator. Lara Versari, who recently became the first navigator, can help caregivers access resources if they’re not comfortable using the website.
To publicize the Hub Connect, SomerPromise does extensive outreach to the community through local nonprofit organizations, city departments, as well as the public schools.
“We really try to meet people where they’re at,” Hosman said.
Founded about 10 years ago, the Somerville Promise Alliance (SomerPromise) is part of the city’s Health & Human Services Department, but it’s housed in the School Department to facilitate interactions among the departments, Hosman explained.
SomerPromise also oversees the Somerville Children’s Cabinet, in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office and the Superintendent’s Office. The Children’s Cabinet was formed in 2017 with support from the Education Redesign Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Cabinet aims “to develop comprehensive child well-being and education systems that help eliminate the link between children’s socioeconomic status and achievement,” according to its website.
Comprising a “cross-sector network of School, City, and Community partners,” the Cabinet meets monthly. “We identify any areas of support or trends that we see, and we identify potentials for systems-building, collaboration, and policy-making around initiatives for our youngest residents,” Hosman said.
To reach families with younger children, SomerPromise works closely with the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (which runs City-sponsored play groups), and the SomerBaby home visiting program (which does outreach to new parents and provides them with supplies and information about growth and development).
They do outreach to families with children in the public schools in collaboration with the School Department’s Enrollment Office. And they communicate with every City agency that works with families to make sure they know about the Hub, Hosman said.
But the most important partnership is with the families themselves, he added. “They’re the primary educators of their children.”
To get help accessing Somerville Hub, residents can contact Lara Versari, the Youth and Family Resource Navigator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-625-6600 ext. 2346
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of the City of Somerville.
Linda Pinkow is a reporter for the Somerville Wire. She is also a development consultant for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.