(This is the third in a series of stories about the ways in which local schools are benefiting from the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation’s Classroom Grants program.)
The life of a secondary school student can at times be frenzied and a bit overwhelming, so Kim Bellach, a counselor at Sonoma Valley High School’s Wellness Center, decided she wanted to step in and create a care cart filled with hygiene products, snacks, journals and other comfort items.
She was able to get the cart up and running at the school’s Wellness Center in October, thanks to a $1,000 Classroom Grant from the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.
“When students come to the Wellness Center for support or a break, our hope is to always have food and supplies available for them,” Bellach wrote in applying for the grant. “For this reason, we are requesting snacks, as well as tea for our students. We are also hoping for journals to give to students so they have something to take with them with they leave the Wellness Center.”
The cart has become a welcome resource for students at the high school.
“I notice that kids have been taking advantage of the cart and are getting the things they need,” said junior Valeria Lorenzana. “I know it’s kind of hard to take care of yourself at times, especially if you are a student who is overwhelmed. It’s nice to be reminded that you need to take care of yourself, take care of your health and feed yourself. Sometimes, kids actually forget to eat, and to prioritize themselves. So, the cart and the supplies are little reminders that it’s OK to take time to take care of yourself.”
The cart contains soap, toothbrushes, toothpastes, deodorants, combs, brushes, tampons, mini lotion tubes, throw pillows, fidget toys, drawing and writing journals, tea, disposable cups, as well as snack-size Cheez-Its, granola bars and popcorn, among other things.
Junior Emily Galindo makes good use of the drawing and writing journals.
“I mostly journal, doodle or draw — that’s a great way of coping,” she said. “I see students working with the fidgets and comforting themselves with the pillows. We’re very grateful for the cart, because it also has things like ChapSticks and deodorants — supportive hygiene. I see students using the cart in a good, not a wasteful way. They also tell others about it.”
Sophomore Lesly Celiseo is thankful for the self-care products.
“I use the lotion a lot because it’s really nice lotion,” she said. “I also use the toothbrushes, toothpaste and lip balm a lot because I sometimes don’t come prepared to school. I use the cart all the time; I know where everything is and where I can grab it. I usually grab not one, but two or three items, to help out my friends. I think the cart is really useful for other students, too.”
Camille Garcia, a school district social worker who serves the center, says that she has heard plenty of other students express gratitude for the care cart.
“Students have come in and looked at the cart and said, ‘These are free?’” she said. “When we tell them ‘Yes,’ they are for them to use, they are effusively grateful. Students are appreciative and respectful, and only take what they need.”
Bellach emphasizes that the care cart is available to all Sonoma Valley High School students — not just those who seek professional help at the Wellness Center.
“The Wellness Center is open to all students before school, during break and lunch, and throughout the day for drop-in brain breaks,” she said. “Students do not need to fill out a Wellness Self Referral form or receive therapy through the Wellness Center to access the care cart.”
The grant for the care cart was awarded by the Classroom Grants program through the DonorsChoose online platform, which was implemented by the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation in early 2022 to simplify the grant application process.
“When a teacher posts a project request to the site, we are automatically able to view all active projects in Sonoma Valley through a simple search,” Chadwin said. “This allows us to fund projects on a rolling (monthly) basis. An added bonus is that other donors worldwide can fund projects. Sometimes, our staff will see a project posted on DonorsChoose, but outside donors fund it before we can approve it. That allows the teacher to post another project for us to fund.”
The Wellness Center is funded by a $3.75 million Supportive, Achievement-based and Flexible Environments (SAFE) Sonoma grant, which the U.S. Department of Education awarded to the district in 2019. It’s a five-year grant, providing $750,000 per year, beginning with the 2019-20 academic year and ending in 2023-24. SAFE Schools grants stipulate some specific targets that must be realized each year.
Regarding future funding for the care cart, Bellach says that the SAFE grant has a budget for Wellness Center supplies.
“We also rely heavily on donations for care cart supplies, as well as snacks and tea for the Wellness Center,” she said.
Also serving Creekside High School students, the Wellness Center has four clinicians who provide brief intervention in individual and group settings five days per week. The center offers students mental health services and a safe place to practice coping, regulation and self-care skills as well as opportunities to talk to a trusted adult and connect to off-campus services and resources.
“The Wellness Center provides another safe place for students to seek support on campus,” Bellach said. “Before it opened, the main space for students to go if they needed a break from class was the front office, which is not always an appropriate place for students needing to self-regulate when they are having a difficult time.”
Bellach notes that the Wellness Center’s clinicians see approximately 42 students for one-to-one therapy at any given time and run school counseling groups on campus.
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at [email protected].