Here to Help

Nursery looks to remove stigma, deliver for those seeking out help

CRESWELL – There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when there is someone there to heed the call. The Family Relief Nursery (FRN) often acts as a safety net, and its leaders continue reimagining how to best support families in need.

FRN in Lane County started in 1994 with the original site in Cottage Grove. Since then, two other sites were added by 2016 – Creswell and Drain.

The Creswell operation, led by executive director Peggy Whalen, serves preschool-aged children who are at risk for child abuse and neglect. 

A child’s level of risk is assessed by the amount of stressors in a child’s life. 

“What we really want to do is help families learn to navigate stressors and deal with them and be able to manage them,” Whalen said.

The Creswell Relief Nursery helps support families in need, aiming to reduce child abuse and neglect through informative care and kindness. 

Identifying stressors

Relief nursery families average about 19 stressors – and often have more. These stressors include underemployment, relocating, family history of drug or alcohol abuse and domestic violence, food scarcity, etc. If a family is receiving services from the nursery, it does not necessarily mean the children are experiencing abuse or neglect, but the risk is higher.

“Our goal is that by giving parents and kids the tools they need, we reduce child abuse and neglect,” Whalen said. 

The statistics are indicative of their work: 95% of children do not experience maltreatment after enrolling in the relief nursery program, according to the Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries.

“Something that I’ve always enjoyed is seeing the growth in the family or a child being able to manage their emotions. … I can see differences when children have somebody consistently modeling behavior for them,” said Lidia Kensler, Creswell site supervisor.

However, there has been a significant decrease in enrollment following the pandemic.

Whalen is convinced that low enrollment is the product of lack of awareness or a community reluctant to ask for help due to a fear of being judged. 

“Ultimately, we’re a child abuse-prevention program. That’s our end goal, but that doesn’t mean that the families that are coming in here abuse their kids. But because that’s what people hear, it does create a stigma,” Whalen said.

The need continues to grow

And services are needed more than ever, she said.

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, in 2021, of all completed Child Protective Service (CPS) assessments, 7,352 were for abuse and involved 10,766 victims. Of all victims, 41.5% were 5 years old and younger.

Unlike ODHS services, though, no one is mandated to come to relief nursery programs. “Everyone is here because they want to be,” Whalen said. “We assume that all parents want to be the best parents that they can be. Our goal is not to remove children. That’s not who we are.” 

The FRN team stresses that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. 

“We’re definitely a place that’s not going to judge. People can come in anytime they want and get what they need. We’re always here. That is what we do,” Whalen said

FRN offers a variety of services: respite, therapeutic early childhood program (TECP) and home visits. Respite provides parents with a scheduled break away from their kids that they can use however they choose. 

“That break can be very important for parents. You have to take care of yourself to be there for your kids,” Kensler said.

“If a child struggles with sharing, or even vocalizing, they might get frustrated. We try to help them identify what that emotion is that they’re having. Here, children can get exposure by socializing with other kiddos on how to do that.” 

Relief Nursery staff at their Creswell location, from left to right, Maddie Holmes, Kyle Riege, Lidia Kensler and Audrey Schmidt. CHRONICLE STAFF PHOTO

Classroom benefits

Learning these skills from a young age sets them up for success in school, too, Whalen said. 

“If a child can’t manage his or her emotions in class, that’s going to be a problem and it will inhibit their learning. … By learning these social emotional skills we are preparing them for school in a much broader way, so that they will be successful,” Whalen said.

The work can be challenging. For Brian Cantoran, who is in charge of outreach, the main challenge is “finding the balance between being supportive without being overbearing. You want people to feel supported, but people may need some space and some time too,” Cantoran said. 

Moving forward, Whalen will be looking for more rental opportunities in hopes of finding a larger space to operate out of. Right now, the capacity for intake and class sizes is limited.

The nursery is also going to start offering parenting classes soon. Families do not have to be enrolled in the program to participate. 

“Our goal is to give families and parents the tools they need so that they can be the best parents that they can be and keep families together,” Whalen said.

Quick hits

Slow ride: the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is scheduled for Sunday, May 21 at 10 a.m. Springfield takes part in the world’s largest and most stylish charitable motorcycle event. The goal for 2023 is to raise awareness and $6 million for prostate cancer research and men’s mental health on behalf of charity partner, Movember, the leading charity changing the face of men’s health on a global scale, focusing on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer. After the ride, join them at 1 p.m. at Viking Braggot Brewery, 520 Commercial St, Unit F, Eugene, for free entertainment. More info:

The Cottage Grove Rotary Club: The group’s Paul Harris Foundation played host to a “Paul Harris reunion” on April 22 at the Elks Club. The CG Rotary has four PH members who have hit the $10,000 mark. Guests enjoyed a dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, chicken, and vegetarian.

Help is available: Hope & Safety Alliance, 24-hour crisis and support line: 541-485-6513 (800-281-2800) or chat online:

Giving back: Hayden Homes team members volunteered with Ronald McDonald House in Springfield last week, the National Volunteer Week.

Employment opportunities: RISE Services, which helps those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is hiring. Contact them today at:



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