Nobody Ever Said Parenting Would Be Easy!

Nobody Ever Said Parenting Would Be Easy!
by William L. Bulla

"Nobody ever said parenting would be easy. All families face challenges in parenting. But, children need adults who place priority on providing security and nurturing," Millie Lowman exclaimed! Ms Lowman is Executive Director of the Parent-Child Center, a private non-profit agency dedicated to respond to these universal needs.

Since its founding in 1983, by the Exchange Clubs of Washington County, the Center has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of parents and their children. This has been accomplished by delivering programs that support parents' efforts to change family patterns, keep children safer and healthier as they grow, and breaking the intergenerational pattern of child abuse.

"Stories in our various news media keep telling us of the serious and growing problem of child abuse. That's why it is important for citizen's to know that everyone can do something to help prevent child abuse," Lowman said.

Each year, more than 3.2 million suspected cases of child abuse and neglect are reported. Locally, there are about 2,400 cases. That is the reason the Parent-Child Center has been a strong and effective advocate of family life in Washington County for the past 23-years. It has been teaching the warning signs of child abuse and telling the public how to report a suspected case of child abuse or child neglect. It has grown from one program serving several families to multiple, diversified programs serving the entire Washington County area.
The Center's Parent Aide Program builds on families' strengths to improve parenting skills and to promote children's healthy emotional development. This is a home visitation program matching a volunteer Parent Aide with a parent who needs help in coping with the pressures and frustrations of parenting. Volunteer Parent Aides meet at least four hours a week with a family to help parents change destructive family patterns into positive, nurturing ones.

The National Exchange Club reports this Parent Aide model has gained national attention. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permante have presented groundbreaking data in the Adverse Childhood Effects (ACE) study that supports the need for intensive, in-home visitation to prevent child abuse.

In the past five years, the CDC has identified child abuse as a public health issue. Officially, the CDC has said home visitation is an effective program in reducing childhood risks.

Locally, Jill Palmer, who recruits, trains and provides support to her volunteers, directs the Parent Aide Program. Cherie Poffenberger, a paid Parent Aide on staff, assists Ms Palmer.

"Some volunteers want to help children because they were abused as a child and understand the problems the children are facing," said Lowman. "Some were pregnant teen-agers and want to help girls because someone had helped them. Others are just people in our community with compassion and the desire to help those in need."

In addition to the volunteers from the community, for which there is a need at this time, other volunteers are student interns from Shippensburg University's Department of Social Work.

The Parent Aides also assist teen-moms in developing safe, appropriate skills in parenting, communication and decision making skills through the "Right >From The Start" Program. This is accomplished through visits with first-time, pregnant teenagers to mentor and guide the young mothers from pregnancy through the baby's first year.

"Teen pregnancy is a major issue in Washington County today," Lowman said. "And while we help teen moms in our Right from the Start program, we want to get a message out to all teens to help prevent teen pregnancy." Ms. Palmer represents the agency on the local Teen Pregnancy Task Force.

Designed to accomplish this mission is Teen Voices/Teen Choices. It is a group of teenage parents trained to go into the community and talk to Washington County's youth about the realities of teen parenting. They reveal the true story about how an unplanned pregnancy changed every aspect of their lives. By meeting with peer groups, they can give first-hand advice about the importance of making better choices in their lives.

The Nurturing/Parenting Program encompasses two areas. The Nurturing portion is a learning activity for the whole family. Parents and children participate in a series of classes to learn healthy family communications skills. Professional facilitators help families improve their relationships by leading them in interactions that are effective and nurturing.

Professional facilitators who guide parents in learning behavior management and problem solving strategies for challenging family issues also conduct parenting classes.

These Parenting/Nurturing Classes are held every Tuesday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Center. These classes are free and available to everyone wanting to improve their parenting skills, and learn how to reinforce traditional family values. This eight week series cover topics such as: Discovering your parenting style; Understanding children's emotions; Child development; Punishment; Building your child's self-esteem; Raising a responsible child; Dealing with special needs; and Dealing with stress. Call 301-791-2224 to register.
The Center has a Clothing Closet stocked with apparel for children from birth to 14-years of age. The agency will accept donations of wearable clothing.

The Center has recently created a Furniture Bin. The garage has recently been remodeled to become a collection and distribution area for furniture. The agency accepts donations of furniture in good condition. These furniture items become a source to help families in-need.

"Being able to provide clothing or a much needed furniture item can help take the stress off of a parent," Lowman said.

The Center is supported financially by both Antietam and Hagerstown Exchange Clubs. Members of both clubs pitch in with help during fundraiser, activities and other events. The Center is a member agency of the United Way of Washington County, which provides funding for the agency's Parent Aide and Right From The Start programs.

The Board of Directors gets very involved in Center activities. In addition to regular board meetings, it holds an annual Board retreat to discuss the community's needs, and update the agency's strategic plan. Board member's volunteer in many capacities for chores and activities throughout the year. Many help out at the agency during United Way's annual paint-up, fix-up Day of Caring event. They are also active in the Center's annual Telethon fundraiser on NBC-25 TV.

In my interview with Millie Lowman, I asked her what her vision was for the Center's future. She responded, "We have several dreams based on dire need. We are working to make these dream our goals. And we will dedicate ourselves to making these goals into realities."

" We have a large second floor here at the Center. I would like to see a complete kitchen upstairs where we can bring parents to learn to prepare nurturing meals for their families. Many of our moms, especially the teen-agers, have no cooking skills. Learning how to prepare healthy, inexpensive and appealing meals is important."

"I long to see a home where teen-age girls can go when they are put out of the house for becoming pregnant. A place where they can get attention, care and affection at such a traumatic time in their life."

"Transportation is another issue for the families we serve. Most of them do not have automobiles. It is often difficult for these parents to get a child to the doctor. Many of the parents find it necessary to walk long distances to work because they cannot afford public transportation. Shopping is another issue as the shopping centers are being located further out. I'm not sure how we will resolve this issue for all of them, but if we owned some transportation vehicles we could at least provide some assistance."

The Parent-Child Center has made a big mark on one segment of our community. It has helped hundreds of people improve their parenting style thus keeping hundreds of children safe from neglect and abuse. Unfortunately, there are more situations they have not been able to reach. As the Center can increase its funding, and as it receives and trains more volunteers, they will be able to reach out to other children in need.

Amid their pride and excitement of past accomplishments, concern for current families being served, and regret that funds and personnel are not available to reach out to those on the waiting list, those working at the Center agree with Lowman when she said, "The most rewarding aspect of my job is when I go home in the evening and realize that I have helped make a difference in the life of a child."