Maslow Project earns national award

The Medford School District's Maslow Project for homeless children and youth has received a national award for its efforts to assist homeless students.

Project director Mary Ferrell will accept the award for "outstanding school-based program providing services to students in homeless situations" at the 20th annual conference of the National Association for Education of Homeless Children & Youth in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

Ferrell said she started the Maslow Project in June 2007 "with the idea that our community can work together (and) combine resources for the good of our kids."

She'll pitch the power of collaboration at the national convention on Sunday, she said.

"It just took somebody taking a look at the system and then coordinating the services so the system itself doesn't become a barrier to the kids' success," Ferrell said.

The Maslow Project is an intervention and educational-assistance program for homeless and runaway students that combines the efforts of several community agencies in Jackson County. Its name comes from psychologist Abraham Maslow, who developed the theory of "hierarchy of needs." Maslow reasoned that humans must satisfy basic needs for food, shelter and security before they can focus on things such as friendship, self-esteem, creativity and problem solving.

Dona Bolt, the state education department's coordinator for homeless education, nominated the Maslow Project for the national award after a site visit earlier this year.

"I was just so impressed with the amazing amount of collaboration," Bolt said. "I learned more about the whole concept behind Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Emergency needs are met first, then we can get the student ready to take care of their education. It really blew me away."

The program began as a collaboration between the Medford School District and Kids Unlimited and now includes partnerships with Community Works, Oregon Department of Human Services, the Job Council and area churches as well as service organizations. Bringing all the communities' resources into an integrated model where kids don't get lost in the system creates "one-stop shopping for all the services homeless kids will ever need," Ferrell said.

Maslow youths are assigned a case manager who assesses their needs. Together, they create an action plan for each youth. Accountability and self sufficiency are stressed, Ferrell said.

"We can't expect our kids to reach the top if they have a shaky foundation. But this is not a free pass. The kids have to be committed to working on their goals," she said.

Ferrell said she wanted to create a sustainable, long-term resource for children and youths at risk, instead of a program that depended on grants to survive.

"I realized there are a lot of great programs in our community. But our kids have a hard time navigating a system that's really set up for adults. They need to know where they're going to get their next meal, where they're going to sleep and even how they are going to get to school the next day," Ferrell said.

The declining economy has only increased the need for services, she said. The project has served 475 individuals, and clients made about 800 visits to the Maslow Project during its first year, she said.

"In the last four months alone, we've seen 750 visits," Ferrell said. "That is a substantial increase."

The Maslow Project easily could be replicated in school districts across the country, Bolt said.

"Everybody should have an opportunity to use this model. It's so well put together and works so well," Bolt said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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