Santa Rosa school district to open free clinic to support fire victims after school

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Santa Rosa schools officials have been worried that students this summer won’t have access to support and services they need to cope with the trauma from last year’s wildfires.

Schools had beefed up their counseling services immediately after the fires broke out the night of Oct. 8, with psychologists, school administrators and teachers closely monitoring students impacted by the fires. But district officials knew something needed to be done during the summer months.

So the district is opening a clinic this summer behind the shuttered Lewis Opportunity School on Lomitas Avenue to provide free medical, counseling and academic support to families affected by the wildfires, regardless of whether their kids attend Santa Rosa schools.

“School can be a strong social support for students and families, but in the summer, many are on their own,” said Steve Mizera, Santa Rosa City Schools’ assistant superintendent of student and family services.

Mizera said the district has received grants totaling $1 million from the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, Comcast NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor, by way of the United Way of the Wine Country, to jump-start the Santa Rosa Integrated Wellness Center. While the clinic still needs an additional $800,000 to roll out all the services, Mizera said, the grants will allow the district to begin academic and mental health services as it continues raising cash.

“We will create the program with what we have,” said Mizera, who hopes to partner with Santa Rosa Community Health Centers to offer basic medical services such as flu vaccines and annual checkups. He said the wellness center will be modeled after the health center on the Elsie Allen High School campus.

The district cannot use money from its general fund to run the facility, which will open not only in summers but also in evenings during the school year.

“Stress, anxiety and academic and medical needs don’t just happen between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Superintendent Diann Kitamura said.

Districtwide, 800 students lost homes in the wildfires. Many still wrestle with anxiety, depression and problems focusing in school six months after the wind-whipped firestorm erupted in Calistoga and roared over the mountains toward Santa Rosa.

“It’s going to take the community and community partners together to heal and rebuild,” said Kitamura, who joined a fleet of volunteers Saturday sprucing up the Lewis campus.

As part of their Comcast Cares Day, about 300 Comcast employees volunteered to landscape, and clean and paint the portables where the wellness center will be located.

Shanele Demartini, 31, a company sales representative who lost her Mark West condo in the Tubbs fire, was among the volunteers. Demartini brought her two oldest children, ages 8 and 11, to pitch in, and said she wants to help the community out “as much as I can because they helped me.”

Demartini has good health insurance. But she said the clinic will be a great place to refer friends still dealing with the trauma from the fires.

“It’s one less stress,” she said about having free health services. “People are suffering from what happened. It’s not like they need any added stress.”

Karolina Gage, assistant principal at Santa Rosa High School, also looked forward to have a place to refer students to health services. More than 130 students at her school lost homes in the fires.

“Things are coming up for a lot of us,” Gage said, referring to the trauma students still face.

Gage, who had just moved to the district a year ago from Southern California, was displaced after her landlord lost her home in the Tubbs fire and needed her secondary home back when she couldn’t find another place to live in the tight housing market.

She said the wellness center not only will provide mental health services for kids impacted by the fires, but also those dealing with substance abuse. She’s seen in uptick in vaping and drug use among students since the fires.

“With one central location, we’ll be able to determine what (families’) needs are and provide them the support,” Gage said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

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