OAKLAND, CA (KPIX 5) Fewer students are truant, kids are reading at a higher level and more parents are taking an active role in their children’s education. These positive changes can be attributed to Chris Stoner-Mertz, who has dedicated her life to giving families the support they need to break them out of the cycle of poverty and trauma. Her work to help them thrive at home and in school earned her this week’s Jefferson Award.
Stoner-Mertz, a licensed social worker, is the President and CEO of Lincoln, a 133-year-old non-profit that has its roots as an orphanage. In recent years, it has evolved into a more comprehensive program that builds strong families and keeps children in school. Stoner-Mertz has led its transformation in the last decade.
She has added more programs in low-income neighborhoods which has tripled the number of children that Lincoln serves to 4,000 kids in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
“We needed to be where children and families are if we were truly going to serve them effectively,” Stoner-Mertz said.
The programs she has developed are wide-ranging and there is something out there for adults and children of any age. Services for parents include programs like support groups, so moms like Shante Abner can de-stress.
“I’m able to let that out, let it go, and go about the next day,” said Abner.
As for children, Stoner-Mertz strives to provide them with the best education she possibly can. Her efforts include programs such as field trips, tutoring, and creative science classes, which have helped change many kids mindset on going to school. This certainly rang true for Jontae Pace, who no longer finds school boring.
“What’s you think of school after that?” we asked. “That it was really fun,” came the reply.
With Stoner-Mertz at the helm, Lincoln has seen progress. Some students have jumped a whole reading level, another program saw 90% of the worst absentees improve their attendance.
At the family resource center, coordinator Annie Flores says lives are changing,
“We’ve improved our truancy by about 5 to 6%, which might not seem like large numbers, but in urban education, it’s a big deal,” Flores said.
Flores gives Stoner-Mertz the credit for this vast improvement:
“Working for someone like Chris is phenomenal.”
Stoner-Mertz plans to continue her efforts, both locally and beyond. She is working with Assemblymember Tony Thurmond to pass two bills that would reach out to families with truant students and improve supports and services for them at schools throughout the state. She is committed to helping low-incoming families in any way she possibly can.
“For every family we can do that for, I’ve made a difference in somebody’s life which gives me meaning,” she said.
So for strengthening families and keeping their kids in school, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Chris Stoner-Mertz.