Support group celebrates 15th birthday family style


September 25, 2001|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ANNE ARUNDEL County school board member Vaughn Brown scrunched down on a tiny toddler chair and read a book about making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Since this was a party, Brown turned the story into a party game, leading the toddlers and their parents in a rollicking succession of claps and giggles.

The occasion for the festivities Thursday at West County Family Support Center in Odenton was the 15th anniversary of Friends of the Family, a nonprofit organization that offers support for parents of young children.

The center, operated by the YWCA, is one of 30 sites in Maryland that offer Friends of the Family programs.

Margaret E. Williams, executive director of Friends of the Family, says that her organization deals with the needs of families with children younger than age 4. Unlike some adult education or day care programs, their work focuses on the relationship between parents and children.

Program participants come from a variety of backgrounds, she said. Some seek income support, while others are well established economically. Some of the parents are teen-agers, while others are in their 30s. Most were born in the United States, but many come from other countries.

The diverse clientele has been a valuable resource, Williams said. Many of the parents have excellent child-rearing skills and serve as a model for those seeking ideas on how to better raise their children. Some more experienced, older parents serve as mentors and provide peer support for younger parents. In the process, they find their own parenting skills strengthened.

What might a parent expect from the program? Williams said that there is no single plan for everyone. Counselors, program leaders and volunteers talk with participants to gauge their needs, their concerns, their strengths and their goals. Then, she said, "We'll build on your strengths to help you get where you want to go."

Program counselors and volunteers work with parents and children to find age- and development-appropriate activities. The program also has helped parents take advantage of education and employment programs.

But the focus is on family. The center offers play areas, tables and chairs, and lots of spots where parents and children can sit and cuddle, sing songs or read stories. With that in mind, Baltimore Reads gave the center a birthday present: an assortment of new books for families to share.

When Brown read the book at Thursday's party, almost everyone took part in the fun. One exception was 2-year-old Michael Gavel, who stood in the middle of the group, staring all around in wide-eyed wonder.

Del. Janet Greenip, a District 33 Republican, took part in the festivities and praised the work being done to support families.

The celebration closed with everyone sharing a big birthday cake.

Information about Friends of the Family: West County Family Support Center in Odenton, 410- 551-2411.

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