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FCSS update brings good news to municipal councillors

Family and student services a major part of social service organization provides

ATHABASCA – The local branch of Alberta’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) wears many hats — the organization liaisons with families and schools, advocates for senior citizens, provides resources to young families and more.

During late May and early June, Athabasca FCSS manager Debbie Wood made her annual trip to the three local municipal councils: Athabasca County, the Town of Athabasca, and the Village of Boyle. The trip gives councillors an opportunity to ask questions, but also gives Wood the chance to showcase success where it happens.

“We’re very fortunate to have such a dedicated leader,” said town Mayor Rob Balay.

Wood shared statistics for six of FCSS’s branches, including their Seniors Advocate, the Athabasca Mentorship Program (AMP), and the Family Wellness Program.

Seven hundred and twenty-seven inquiries were made to the Seniors Advocate in 2023, which included help accessing provincial and federal supports, as well as questions about more local issues like transportation, homecare, and subsidized housing.

In addition to the annual Seniors Symposiums, which brought in 108 residents in Athabasca and Boyle, FCSS also held an emergency preparedness workshop for seniors, which Wood said was very well regarded.

“Our programs are well utilized, and we evaluate the programs every year,” said Wood. “We look at the numbers, we look at the outcomes, we look at the feedback … and then look at if we need to make any adjustments.”

One major success Wood highlighted for all three councils was what FCSS calls “interagency,” a group of agencies that support children and families in the community.

“We only meet five times a year, but it’s to get the groups together so we can talk about what services we’re providing. We all know each other, so when you need to call somebody, you know what the gaps or the issues they’re facing are,” said Wood.

The Athabasca Mentorship Program was another positive for the agency — 32 mentor/mentee matches took part over the 2023-24 school, split between Landing Trail Intermediate School and Whispering Hills Primary School.

“It’s been a very positive impact on my daughter,” wrote one parent. “She has built a very healthy relationship and looks forward to spending time with her mentor.”

In total, 499 mentorship sessions took place in 2023, which range from simply eating lunch, to playing catch, to working on a puzzle. Wood said the demand for mentors is always high and encouraged any interested parties to put their name forward.

Currently, the mentorship program only exists in Athabasca, although Wood told Boyle Council FCSS was hoping to expand the program into the village for the upcoming year.

“It’s been an ongoing conversation over the last several years about can (Boyle School) get mentorship there,” said Wood in a June 13 interview. “Now we’re looking at if this can be done school based to start this. EPC is involved here with student mentors, and that’s what they’re possibly looking at in Boyle.”

Supports for students don’t stop at the mentorship program. FCSS employs three Family Wellness Workers, who worked with 73 families in 2023. Wood said services range from strengthening intra-family relationships to building knowledge of early childhood development.

FCSS’s full annual report can be found on their Athabasca County webpage, which Wood encouraged anyone to take a look at if they were curious. All three municipal councils agreed the work the organization does is critical for the region’s community health.

“We can’t thank you enough for what you do,” said village Mayor Colin Derko. “We all know that we can contact you any time if we do have questions, you’re always very accessible, so thank you for that too.” 

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