In the spring of 1991, the quiet community of Cottage Grove was deeply shaken when a six-year-old boy was killed by his mother in a fit of rage. Two weeks later the town reeled after a five-year-old girl was beaten into a coma by her abusive father. Tagged with the embarrassing label of “child abuse alley” by the media around Oregon, the town was stunned into silence.
In response to these tragedies, community members came together to prevent such horrors from happening again. Their goal was to build a program that would work to support families under stress. They conducted an extensive search and found such a program in the Relief Nursery of Eugene, a nationally recognized early childhood intervention program. In close collaboration with Professor Dan Close at the University of Oregon, a grant was written to the Federal Government for funds to replicate Relief Nursery programs in this community. The funds were granted.
The movement quickly gained momentum and members of the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs of Cottage Grove, the Cottage Grove Healthcare Community, local social service agencies, churches and community business leaders worked together to brilliantly tailor the program to meet the needs of this rural area.
At that point in time, families in South Lane and North Douglas counties were struggling under the weight of the rapidly declining timber industry. Families that had depended upon work in the woods or mills of this area for generations, found themselves without jobs or skills during a national recession. Coupled with high unemployment rates were high levels of alcohol and drug abuse, hunger and domestic violence. In keeping with history, children were most vulnerable to the inevitable violence and instability of these transitional years.
The Nursery programs were built upon the principles of safety, support and stability. In order for the program to positively impact families in this community, it would have to be welcoming, non-judgemental and strength-based, operating on a basic value that most parents wanted to be good parents.
Parents needed to feel that they were being supported, not judged. Children needed a nurturing, safe and inviting environment in which to thrive socially, emotionally and physically. The stability of the program, crucial to all involved, would be dependent upon a strong board and highly trained staff.
A Board of Directors was formed and they proceeded to hire a Program Coordinator and an Early Childhood Interventionist. In August of 1994, the Family Relief Nursery began serving clients in a local church.
In the beginning, the Nursery offered one therapeutic early childhood class for infants and toddlers. Attendance to the class was sporadic and a partnership was quickly formed between the Nursery and South Lane Wheels to provide transportation to class.
After moving to another church, it became evident that the program needed to grow and that included acquiring a permanent facility. The doors of the Nursery building were opened in April of 1997.