COMMUNITY GEM: Springboro woman helps students through tough times

Wendy Ford Grothjan, mental health coordinator for Springboro schools. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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Wendy Ford Grothjan, mental health coordinator for Springboro schools. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

She has a busy job as the mental health coordinator for the Springboro schools, but Wendy Ford Grothjan is also working to eliminate barriers to learning for struggling students and families as the founder and executive director for the Springboro Community Assistance Center.

Grothjan has been with the Springboro schools for 21 years in her mental health coordinator role. However, 15 years ago, she saw a need to fill gaps that were being created due to the Great Recession.

She said at that time, the community had not been in such a difficult situation before. “Then people were losing their jobs and some people’s incomes were over the limits and could not get assistance. I saw this directly affecting students,” Grothjan said.

In 2007, Grothjan was helping people from the back of her van because people were struggling, colleague Aaron Nicley said.

At first, staff – including Grothjan and then-superintendent David Baker – would shop, cook and deliver. The need continued to grow and the Springboro Community Assistance Center was born.

“She helps students and their families struggling with mental health, or any other issues that could be barriers to learning,” Nicley said.

She’s also seen Grothjan “literally give a student the shirt off of her back.” Even as Grothjan was “off” work after having her knee replaced, she had struggling students on Zoom meetings with her so they could work though their anxiety, Nicley said.

“Kids from all walks of life come into the Wellness Center and co-mingle with each other and the only rule is to be kind and respectful of others’ struggles,” Nicley said. “She truly cares about the community and thinks of the kids she helps as her own.”

When told she had been nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem, Grothjan said she was “surprised.”

“I don’t see myself as that,” Grothjan said. “I’m just taking care of the things that need taking care of.”

The Beavercreek resident described herself as stubborn “because I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If there is a will, there is a way.”

“We have an amazing community and once a need is identified, the community comes together,” Grothjan said. “Everyone has been amazing and we could not have done this without them. There are pockets of families who need help.

She said during the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s seen an uptick of need in the community. SCAC works to provide wrap-around services for families in need in the Springboro school district due to changing demographics and an increase in mental health issues that create barriers for education, Grothjan said.

The community organization works with local churches and service organizations such as the local Rotary and Optimist clubs. The organization has more than 30 adult volunteers as well as students and student organizations helping.

Grothjan said SCAC partners with Shared Harvest to provide backpacks of nutritious food for students on free and reduced lunch for more than 100 students each month. This is in addition to the 250 to 300 people who utilize the SCAC food pantry each month, she said.

Scott Marshall, Springboro Schools district communications coordinator, said Grothjan “does a phenomenal job” providing mental health services as well as the community’s food pantry. In addition, Grothjan has worked to expand the department, he said.

“She knows a lot of people and knows the area to get help and resources for students,” Marshall said.

He described Grothjan as “direct” and that she tells it like it is because she cares. “The kids are comfortable talking to her,” he said.

The SCAC was originally housed at Clearcreek Elementary School before expanding to the former Jonathan Wright Elementary School on Florence Drive. In 2016, SCAC expanded again and relocated to the current facility the Educare Building next to Springboro Junior High School.

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