Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s FACES

Essential workers have been described as “superheroes” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for good reason. The staff at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Family and Community Education Services (FACES) program can be more like ninjas.

How so? Oftentimes, their work is seen only after it has been done. For many families there is a knock at the door and when they go to answer, nobody is there. Instead, a box of fresh fruit or a bag of books from the local library are the only traces left behind.

Homestead resident Anthony MacOliver and his 2-year-old daughter, Kamillah Faith, have experienced it firsthand. Kamillah even recognizes the bag and knows what’s inside – her favorite books, filled with shapes, colors, touch-and-feel pages and pop-ups. Inside each book is a whole new world where her imagination can take off, even while quarantined in her home.

“She knows that bag,” Mr. MacOliver said with a chuckle. “I love the fact that she was able to keep the program going with the library. Although my daughter is two, she has an affinity for books. She likes a book more than a doll. That’s just how she is. I was adamant in getting her into that kind of program.”

The MacOliver family is just one of many who continue engaging with the Steel Valley Family Center that is based in Homestead. The center is part of the FACES program, which has numerous locations throughout the County. Each location provides home-based services, parent support groups, fun parent/child activities, relationship building and mentoring. When the pandemic struck, it took creativity and quick thinking to translate those meaningful personal experiences into a digital platform or no-touch delivery of services.

“As we all know, the last few months have been very difficult and challenging for everyone,” said Steel Valley Family Center Director Holly Cherpak. “Being able to adapt to the changes has certainly been a true test for all of us.”

Ashley Kirkland is the president of the parent council at the Steel Valley Family Center. She, too, enjoys the fresh fruit and vegetable drop-offs on her front porch and also continues to benefit from parent gatherings that now take place via video conferencing. When she is not working as a home care provider, Mrs. Kirkland, along with her husband and two sons, has been hunkering down at home during the pandemic. Doing the socially responsible thing does not mean she can’t be social. Those video calls are a welcome return to how life was just a few months ago, while also addressing the current challenges for families.

“It makes me feel normal,” explained Mrs. Kirkland. “I need that interaction with the other parents. They family center has been there to help us.”

For others, staying put is not an option. Katheryn Hanley, a West Mifflin resident, and her family have outgrown their current living situation. She has three children ages 9, 2 and 1. They need her attention at home, especially during quarantine, and that has made it difficult to look for a new residence. Luckily, the family center staff was there for her and Valerie Strosser assisted.

“I’m now in the process of moving,” said Ms. Hanley. “I’m glad she was there to help me. I was trying on my own, but she had connections. They are just awesome.”

For the dedicated staff, lending a helping hand to families wherever they are or getting them where they need to be is just another day at the (virtual) office.