CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Clarence School District is expanding mental health services for students and families, opening up a new family support center in the high school. District leaders and students say this center is critically important, especially after several difficult years.

Founded in 2018 at Clarence Middle School, The Family Support Center has found a new home, helping students and community members with a variety mental health need. The center is located at 9625 Main Street in Clarence, which leaders say is an accessible place for many town residents. The school district says this center is even more important to have as students navigate a post pandemic world.

“We couldn’t have a better time to open up a center like this because we know that the need is there and people are willing to talk about it,” Evan Vahratian, coordinator of the Clarence Central School District Family Support Center, said at the grand re-opening event Monday night.

The larger space at the high school is equipped with a therapy room, multi-purpose space, and common areas for everyone. The center utilizes in-school counselors as well as external therapists and other community partners to connect people with the appropriate care.

“I think it’s important to have a center like this not just to provide that support but to normalize some of these situations,” Vahratian added. “When they’re able to see that other students are maybe experiencing some of the same concerns, other students that are seeking out that support, they’re a lot more likely to get that support themselves.”

Moon Schwartz is a freshman at Clarence High School and says she used the Family Support Center many times in middle school. She found it comforting that the center moved with her to the high school, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love that it is here at the high school. I used it a lot at the middle school and now that it is at the high school, I just have a place to be myself,” Schwartz said.

There’s been a renewed focus on mental health in the wake of the pandemic, which schools are still reeling from more than a year later.

“The final wave of the pandemic is going to be the mental and emotional health crisis of our kids and families,” Michael Cornell, president of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, said. “It’s got to be the family. You can just aggregate the life experience of a child from the experience that they have at home with the family.”

Even though the family support center is at Clarence High School, it is open to anyone within the district limits who needs support.

“It can be new, different and scary because there is some stigmatism around mental health and getting help. But these people do it for a living and they want to help you,” Schwartz concluded.

The Family Support Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Additional hours can be added by appointment. For more information call (716) 407-9244 or visit the website.

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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.