South Orange County has the reputation of being affluent — and much of it is. But that’s not its whole story.
“We know that there are also pockets of great isolation and significantly low income,” says Christy Cornwall, director of Community Benefit for Mission Hospital, speaking about the poor who live in this area.
“Because most of our communities are property-managed, the outsides of homes are beautiful and well kept. But look inside, and you might see four families living in a two-bedroom condo. Or a family of four in a 10-foot-square room,” she says.
Families who live below the poverty level (a yearly income of $20,420 or less for a family of three) can struggle with affording a place to live, finding work, handling stress, getting health insurance — and not know where to turn for help for these skills and knowledge.
The South Orange County Family Resource Center (SOCFRC) has provided just this help to the poorest residents for more than 20 years. Now located in a new, larger building, the staff can help more individuals and families connect with their communities and build good, stable lives.
A big need
According to Cornwall, a growing number of residents rely on the SOCFRC — last year it received 11,000 visits from community residents.
“In 1996, Mission Hospital helped to found the Family Resource Center in collaboration with other partners,” says Cornwall. It was located in the Mission Viejo Mall, but later moved to a 2,000-square-foot facility near Saddleback College. After seeing how many residents were traveling from Lake Forest, the facility moved to a larger space there.
When the opportunity arose to purchase an even bigger space, SOCFRC and Camino Health Center (also affiliated with Mission Hospital) agreed to share it — their services dovetail nicely.
“We looked at this as a great opportunity to work together under one roof,” says Cornwall.
Classes on how to balance a checkbook, save for a home, apply for food stamps, manage anger, cook on a low budget and use a computer are all offered at SOCFRC. Clients can also take workshops on renters’ rights, finding legal services, job interviewing skills and more.
Especially critical for families are the parenting classes and counseling services for individuals, families, couples and children, as well as support for victims of domestic violence.
Grief groups are available, as well as crocheting and knitting groups for women who suffer from depression. “These groups are a way to help women connect with their community, reduce social isolation and get out of a depressed state,” says Cornwall.
Services and classes are offered in Spanish and English, and most are free of cost. The idea is “to enhance family growth, promote good health, self sufficiency and community,” Cornwall says.
The needs of people living in poverty are multi-faceted, Cornwall points out, and include spiritual comfort. “Some clients have lost hope and are in need of a spiritual connection,” says Cornwall. The Center offers meditation and yoga classes, as well as spiritual guidance.
Cornwall says in recent years, she has seen rise in stress and depression in families. “The need for mental health services has increased, especially for kids,” she says, adding that they work with the Each Mind Matters program as part of the California Mental Health Services Authority.
The poor may be invisible to some, but not to the South Orange County Family Resource Center, who recognizes their existence and their plight — and offers a strong helping hand.
“We see everyone as a community resident, and a dear neighbor who needs to be cared for, regardless of how they arrived,” says Cornwall. “Our hope is that the programs we offer help lift them up, and improve their ability to have a good quality of life.”