COMMUNITY GEM: Kettering’s Jennifer Baker offers ‘care closet’ for students

Jennifer Baker is committed to doing as much as she can to help children get through tough times and achieve success.

Baker of Kettering just wrapped up her sixth year of work as a therapist at St. Anthony School as part of the Empowering Children with Hope and Opportunity, or ECHO, a program through University of Dayton. ECHO provides individual, family and group counseling and family advocacy to Catholic schools in the Greater Dayton area.

She said it’s been her lifelong mission to help children learn how to cope with anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, and to work with families on supporting youth and children.

“I really take the approach that for a child to be successful, the whole family really needs to get involved,” she said. “So there’s a lot of relationship building with families, so that we can work on parenting and mental health support and guidance and things like that.”

Baker displays “an unwavering commitment” to the kids of the school, said her husband, Ken, who nominated her as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

“She goes in early and stays late (for volunteering after-school programs) and always gives 110%,” Ken Baker said.

She also established a “care closet” where children can get needed help with supplies such as personal care items, clothes, and backpacks.

“My first year at St. Anthony, I really noticed that there was a major gap with ... kids with families being able to provide not only uniforms, which can be expensive as kids grow so fast, but also hygiene needs ... backpacks and school necessities and things like that,” Baker said.

That gap was especially evident with families coming over from other countries, she said

It also is present with families who are struggling to pay their bills, mothers who have left abusive situations or families experiencing trauma, such as fire, that has forced them to abruptly leave their homes.

“It’s important to me to be able to make sure that kids have what they need,” Baker said. “It’s really difficult to focus academically if you’re hungry, if you don’t have your basic needs met, if your clothes don’t fit, if you’re worried about different things at home.”

She stocks the care closet via contributions from community members, family and friends.

“A lot of it, honestly, is provided by myself and our family advocate, Corinne Plas,” Baker said. “If all of a sudden I call and say ... ‘This kid has no shoes” or their shoes have holes in them, she’ll say, ‘I can figure out how to get that.’”

Baker’s husband said his wife is “well loved” at the school and many of the students rely upon her for continued support and guidance every day.

“She is definitely a Community Gem — and for the people that work with her — an all-around amazing person,” he said.

Baker said she sees children for counseling every week or every two weeks.

Much of what she does involves working with families and children “to know where they’re at.”

“When I open the front door of the school each day, every kid gets a ‘‘good morning’ from me,” Baker said. “They can come to me right away and say ‘Hey, this happened’ or ‘I need to talk to you.’ That way I can kind of keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on with each student.”

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