EMMA ROUTLEY/CHRONICLE PHOTO

Peggy Whalen, left, is entering her third year leading the Family Relief Nursery’s efforts in Cottage Grove, Creswell and Drain.

Peggy Whalen is enthusiastic when she discusses the Family Relief Nursery operation. Those who work with the executive director are equally enthusiastic when they discuss Whalen. It’s hard to say for sure that the relationship was “destiny,” but everyone agrees it was love at first sight.

“We have a very, very great board of directors,” Whalen says when explaining the support system behind the nursery’s mission. “I mean we have a phenomenal board of directors.” 

Board treasurer Steve Carmichael, on Whalen: “She’s just been tremendous. She’s been a whirlwind. She came on the scene and now we’re just on fire. It was a godsend for us.”

The partnership has been successful by any measure, with plenty of tangible results beyond helping families in crisis. Consider:

She has grown the nursery’s budget from just under $800,000 annually to more than $1.1 million this year.

She’s investing in people and resources to better serve the communities she oversees – Cottage Grove, Creswell and Drain. One newer hire is bilingual, and is helping families in English and Spanish. 

The nursery has purchased two extension vans to transport students, with a third vehicle on the way. The Ford Transit and Chevy Express carry up to 13 people at a time, and give FRN autonomy over its transportation needs. 

A portable classroom in Creswell, and the facility in Cottage Grove, are receiving upgrades in physical materials and learning supplies. 

Residents in the southern Willamette Valley have options beyond the three areas Whalen oversees, too. The Eugene-Springfield nurseries also offer similar support. In Eugene, call 541-343-9706 weekdays (hours vary), and in Springfield people can call the Robin Jaqua Child and Family Center at 541-485-0007 weekdays (hours vary). Visit reliefnursery.org for more information.

It was the Eugene FRN that was the inspiration in 1991 for the creation of a Cottage Grove-led branch. A Board of Directors was formed and they proceeded to hire a Program Coordinator and an Early Childhood Interventionist. In August of 1994, FRN began serving clients in a local church offering one therapeutic early childhood class for infants and toddlers. The program continued to grow and expand, and its permanent facility in Cottage Grove opened in April 1997.

Today in Creswell, Whalen said there are two teachers who are providing respite and therapeutic classes out of the portable classroom on Creslane Elementary School’s campus. “So we are open and doing work and if someone needs help they can reach out to our main office and we can get them connected.”

She said FRN “would love to find office space in Creswell. We really would like to be able to have some of our staff there more frequently, just so someone can pop in. And that’s kind of our long-term vision.”

For now, families in need of support can contact the Cottage Grove and Creswell branches by phone at 541-942-4835, or the crisis hotline at 541-600-5312 (leave a message if necessary).