Murrieta’s Oak Grove Center caring for residential students during COVID-19 outbreak

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Oak Grove Center
Oak Grove Center, considered an essential service, remains open during the COVID-19 outbreak. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Oak Grove Center is a nonprofit residential, educational and treatment center for children throughout California with psychological, emotional and behavioral problems and special needs.

Considering dozens of at-risk children live on the campus and dozens more travel in each day for school and treatment, a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak has the potential to be a real problem for the facility.

“I basically kind of locked us down in the sense of ‘shelter in place’ last week, on Friday the 13th … it seems like a lifetime ago,” Tammy Wilson, CEO at Oak Grove Center, said. “We had a minimum day that day, the day students that come every day, have been in their homes ever since. We have been really trying to communicate very well to parents about how critical it was to not be having passes during this time. If I send kids home on passes, they could easily get whatever’s going on in their neighborhoods and homes and bring it back.

“So, the kids that live here are not going home on passes, are not going into the community and we’ve had to get really creative with how to keep them engaged and entertained.

“I am needing to buy more games, I just ordered art supplies. We’re actually looking at the possibility of adding some kind of like rock-climbing wall in the gym,” Wilson said.

Oak Grove Center is considered an essential service.

“Some of my kids, they don’t have homes to go to; that’s part of what’s going on,” Wilson said. “Oak Grove falls into the category of essential services as a short-term residential therapeutic program that’s responsible for the health and safety of youth that live on-site. And additionally, we’re in the behavioral health services and education category. I have staff, including nursing, that are here around the clock.”

But other members of the staff commute to work each day, and Wilson provided each with a letter just in case they get pulled over by law enforcement during the stay-at-home orders.

As for the students, Wilson said that she is really proud of how the children have handled the adversity so far.

“I’ve done some runs with them, and we take them outside on grounds. Our luck, of course, it rained a lot last weekend so they definitely had cabin fever, but with some sunshine it’s better,” Wilson said. “They are trying to concentrate on really good messaging and then being grateful.”

They also made a pile of homemade cards for members of a senior home, which is completely on lockdown, she said.

“Last weekend was super cool because they had done chalk paint on the concrete of positive messages,” Wilson said. “They made a banner for the staff that works more Monday through Friday and they came in on Monday and there was this huge banner that the kids made for them that said, ‘We appreciate you, thank you!’

“I think (the students) know they have people that are doing a lot to show up for them during this time.”

Though Oak Grove had to cancel one of their biggest fundraising events, An Evening Under the Oaks. Wilson said none of the sponsors have asked for their money back.

“Which I really appreciate,” she said. “Just canceling it, we kind of are dependent on those funds for some of the extra stuff that we do with enrichment, culinary and vocational education programs.”

Others are checking in, sending gifts for the children like Girl Scout Cookies and more.

“Thank you to them as they’re checking in with this and finding out how we’re doing,” she said. “Thank you to those who asked about any needs we have. I appreciate that.”

For more information on how to help Oak Grove Center, visit https://oakgrovecenter.org.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.