Alex Adame knows Madras. He spent much of his youth there, graduated from Madras High School in 2013 and was also involved in his local church.
So when the Bend-based nonprofit Family Access Network — which helps impoverished students with basic needs like food, shelter and school supplies — decided to expand its services to a few Madras schools this year, the 24-year-old Adame was chosen to lead that push.
“He knows that community and he knows those schools,” said Julie Lyche, executive director of Family Access Network, commonly called FAN. “There’s a lot of need there, and we’re excited to have a FAN advocate available to connect those families (to resources).”
Family Access Network advocates try to remove barriers by helping students obtain clothing or food, or helping their family pay rent or utilities, Lyche said. They typically link these families with other local nonprofit groups, churches, businesses and individual donors to meet these needs.
“Helping families navigate the social resources system is one of the main things he’s doing there,” Lyche said of Adame. “That’s his expertise, to help these families figure out where to get help, and where to not waste their time, because they wouldn’t be eligible for (certain) services.”
With Adame, the Family Access Network, founded in 1993, now has a Madras-based staffer helping students at Madras High School, Bridges High School and Jefferson County Middle School. Adame will join 25 other staffers serving 62 schools in every Central Oregon K-12 school district except Culver.
The nonprofit last expanded in January 2016 when it began working with some Crook County schools, Lyche said. Family Access Network eventually added a second staffer to serve the area, which is what the nonprofit hopes to do in Jefferson County as well, she said.
Adame will only serve the three middle and high schools in Madras. The nonprofit decided to hold off on adding a second staffer to serve the district’s elementary schools and the Warm Springs K-8 Academy due to funding constraints, Lyche said. Students who live in Warm Springs attend Madras or Bridges high school.
The middle and high schools’ staff were extremely proactive about adding a Family Access Network advocate, she said.
“We have had a lot of conversations with the middle and high school leadership over the past year, so it made sense to start there,” she said.
Lyche and Adame said the Madras area has many high-need students that could use the nonprofit’s help connecting to resources. More than 95% of all three schools’ students qualified for free or reduced school meals as recently as the 2018-19 school year, according to state statistics.
“Out of all the tri-county area ... I might be a little biased, (but) I think it was the most needed to have FAN,” Adame said of Jefferson County.
All three schools have very ethnically diverse student populations, with many Hispanic and Native American students. Adame himself is Hispanic, and speaks Spanish fluently, which will help build relationships amongst that group of families, he said.
Adame, who is technically a Jefferson County School District staff member trained by Family Access Network, was hired by the school district in late February. But because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools just a couple weeks later, his new career got off to a slower start than expected.
Still, Adame was able to spend the spring and summer finding local organizations willing to partner with Family Access Network, and even help a few families remotely through texting and mail, he said.
Now that he is working inside the Madras High School building in a permanent office — despite the school still being closed to in-person instruction — it will be easier for families in need to connect with him, he said.
“It just creates more of an access point, so our families can come to Madras High School or (the other schools) and pick up a hygiene pack or et cetera,” Adame said.
Brian Crook, principal of Madras High School, said Family Access Network’s expansion to his school will have a tremendous impact on his students.
“There’s a high need, and we haven’t been able to serve them in this fashion,” he said. “And now we’re going to be able to do that, and Alex is the perfect guy for the job.”