Kentwood — Brianna Vasquez was stationed at a table near the Meadowlawn Elementary playground, offering information about school and community resources to families during its back-to-school open house. She spent the evening linking them with information about food, a shoe giveaway, health organizations and other services.
Vasquez is the new Kent School Services Network coordinator at Meadowlawn, and the first to be in the role there full time. KSSN works in community schools — those that are the hub of a neighborhood — to identify and connect families with needed resources and support services. That means directing people to food pantries and sending food home with students through Hand2Hand; connecting them with counselors or health clinics; and providing language translation services to non-English speakers.
What’s extra special about Vanquez being in the Meadowlawn post is that she also lives in the neighborhood, and was compelled to work with the children and families who reside in the homes around her. She plans to have her 3-year-old daughter, Josephine, attend the school.
“I wanted to get to know the school that was literally in my neighborhood,” Vasquez said. She has worked for KSSN since 2012 in several positions, including as a coordinator in Kelloggsville Public Schools and in Grand Rapids Public Schools, and as operations manager overseeing the network. When she learned Kentwood was increasing coordinator positions from part time to full time at its elementary buildings, she became very interested in returning to the “grassroots” role of working with students and families.
“I was like, ‘Ooh, I would love to serve in the community where I actually live,’” she said. “It’s a different level of commitment because you live and breathe it every day. It’s a really unique perspective as well.”
Drawn by Diversity
Vasquez moved into the neighborhood 10 years ago. “One of the reasons I love being in Kentwood is that it’s very diverse in terms of race, ethnicity and income levels,” she said of the most diverse school district in Michigan.
She also loves having a personal connection with the neighborhood.
‘It just brings a lot of beautiful wealth and perspective. My background is Mexican, my husband is Guatemalan. My daughter was born and raised here, but has another identity. We are very proud of our heritage. We speak English and Spanish at home. We can go down the street and play here and she will hear different languages and it doesn’t faze her. That’s the norm.”
At Meadowlawn, Vasquez will work with a team including site team clinician Sierra Williams, whose focus is mental health supports, and Department of Health and Human Services Success Coach Janice Alberda, who focuses on attendance, connecting families with state assistance programs and forming partnerships.
“I am extremely excited about having Brianna on board, and as a team I’m just hoping we are going to be able to help the families that are in need of the services we have to offer,” Alberda said. “Hopefully nobody slips through the cracks and we are able to focus on resources and helping them eliminate barriers.”