Lindsey Schilling was the first VISTA volunteer to work with the Kinship Navigator Program at FIRSTLINK in Columbus, OH. The Kinship program provides referral services and educational opportunities to low-income grandparents raising grandchildren both within and outside of the formal foster care system. Grand families have a variety of unique needs and have historically been overlooked by many service agencies.
When Lindsey joined in February 2006, the Navigator program operated under a telephone model of case management and referral services. There was a great need for increased community awareness of kinship issues, and it was difficult to reach out to isolated kinship caregivers. Lindsey's extensive outreach efforts allowed the Navigator Program to engage in meaningful dialog about kinship families' needs with over 150 area service professionals and public school staff, and sparked the creation of the Franklin County Kinship Advisory Board discusses regional kinship issues and makes recommendations about family and foster care policies to local decision-making bodies. Lindsey's efforts have been vital in increasing awareness in the Columbus community, and because of her efforts Navigator Program staff were invited to participate in Governor-elect Ted Strickland's policy meeting on foster care in the state of Ohio.
During her year of service, Lindsey wrote over $16,800 worth of grants for the benefit of kinship caregivers in Columbus. She also assisted an area homeless shelter and community partner in securing over $6,000 in grant monies for their program. A grant from the Points of Light Foundation allowed her to train kinship caregivers to act as "volunteer navigators" to assist families on a neighborhood level. These volunteers developed three community based support groups for kinship families that serve over 30 caregivers and 50 children monthly. She also utilized this funding to develop a bi-monthly newsletter that is distributed to over 1,000 kinship families, and includes information on community events, assistance programs, and recreational opportunities.
Lindsey is currently writing a grant proposal to provide mental health services to the children of kinship families on a monthly basis, expand neighborhood support group services to four other Columbus neighborhoods, and to organize regular free recreational activities for low-income grand families. She has done an excellent job at engaging area caregivers in advocacy and program decision-making processes, and the people she serves know that their thoughts and opinions will be valued. She has recruited a highly capable grandparent caregiver to replace her when her service is done, and is working hard to ensure that funding and programmatic support will be in place for her successor.