By CASEY BISETTI
The cozy atmosphere of the Warwick Public Library made it a good environment to connect with the community. After months separated by a screen, Cameron Kadek couldn’t be …
By CASEY BISETTI
The cozy atmosphere of the Warwick Public Library made it a good environment to connect with the community. After months separated by a screen, Cameron Kadek couldn’t be more excited to finally meet with the parents of the kids she’s been teaching for years now.
Kadek began at her position as a Title 1 Family Facilitator three years ago—just before COVID hit. As a faculty member under Title 1, her main job is to foster an inclusive and compassionate environment for underprivileged children and their families. She serves five elementary schools: Oakland Beach, Norwood, Lippitt, Hoxsie, and Scott.
She recounts the day, just over a month ago, when the state of Rhode Island declared a state of emergency in the field of adolescent mental health.
“I was coming back from April Vacation when the news of children and adolescents mental health had really become an issue… And I’m typing up my newsletter, and I’m sharing an article, and I’m saying, ‘A state of emergency has been declared and here’s some more information.’ And I kind of thought, ‘Okay, I’m sharing this, but what am I doing about it?’”
Kadek has proven time and time again that she’s not one to remain paralyzed in a time of need. She’s a woman of action, and one who refuses to stand by idly while others suffer.
She immediately placed calls to a variety of organizations all across Rhode Island and asked whether they would be willing to participate in a new event she planned to host, which she called a mental health fair. Thrive Behavioral Health, the BHDDH, Rhode Island Regional Coalitions, the Parent Support Network, and the Warwick Health Equity Zone were happy to lend their time and resources to this worthy cause. The fair was held last Wednesday at the Warwick Public Library.
The turn-out was larger than Kadek had expected, with 20 to 30 parents attending.
She describes the fair as being a collage, of sorts, with different tables aligned in a horseshoe, and each table hosting a different organization or topic. Kadek’s table focused on social-emotional wellbeing, and the impact that parents’ attitudes and behaviors can have on kids.
“Sometimes, it’s surprising how much these kids are really soaking things up in their surroundings… Death, sickness, all sorts of things. I’m sure that substance abuse was on the rise… We know that domestic violence was heightened.”
To mediate some of the damage children can incur from witnessing negative coping skills in their role models, Kadek and her colleagues explained and demonstrated positive coping strategies to parents.
Other tables focused on self harm, suicide, substance abuse, and a variety of other urgent topics.
Martha Battella of the Parent Support Network said , “I am hopeful to see more of these events to bring awareness of the support and resources that are available. I believe it is important to bring people together and hold space to heal the trauma that we all have experienced.”
Kadek is already making plans for another event. She hopes to turn this mental health fair into an annual event of grand proportions, possibly an outdoor event with food trucks and fun activities for any kids brought along.
“People are busy. They’re working two jobs. They’re single parents. They can’t lug four kids with them. So, you know, if we can have something fun and enticing, then it will be more successful.”
This isn’t the first initiative that Kadek has implemented to help children in need. For years, she’s been hosting themed activity nights, from Electric Science Nights to Bingo Math Nights, to inspire enthusiasm and curiosity in young students. These events are designed to be attended by both students and their parents.
“We know that when parents are involved, the success rates of students climb,” Kadek explains.
But, by far, her most successful initiatives have been her strikes against child hunger and food insecurity.
Over 40% of kids in all of her schools qualify for free or reduced lunch, which the schools happily provide. But then, the question is raised, What are these kids eating on the weekends?
The tragic answer is: Sometimes, nothing.
This is what inspired Kadek to begin filling up discreet black bags with non-perishable goods for kids to take home on the weekends.
“If a kid is hungry, they’re not focused on learning. They’re not learning the math. They’re not paying attention in class. They’re thinking about their empty stomach. And same goes for the parents. They’re not gonna come and hang out at a LEGO night with me, or a science night, if they’re like, ‘I don’t have groceries. I don’t know how to feed my kid.’”
Oakland Beach Elementary School also has a food pantry with “Open Shop Hours”, wherein anybody can visit and take as many items as are needed. This is where Kadek supplements the fresh produce and other perishable goods that she could not safely pack in a backpack to be sent home with the kids. She also provides necessities like laundry detergent there, which is often too heavy for kids to carry home themselves.
“Rhode Island is tiny, and we have so much. So, if we can bring everybody together, families can really see what they have at their disposal and where to turn to when they need help.”
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