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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Jan. 20, 2011                                               

HCS program works to strengthen families

New volunteer parent mentor program will give struggling parents
more resources, support

By Pamela Lannom

   Serving as parent mentor might sound a little intimidating. But for Hinsdale resident Deborah Braico, mentoring is just reaching out to someone in need.
   “I think most of us want to help but we don’t know what we’re good at, and it’s really as simple as this — it can be as simple as being a friend to another mother. That’s how simple helping is and that’s enough. You don’t have to have a degree or special skill. It really does make a difference,” she said.
   Braico, who mentored a young mother through a program in
Naperville, has volunteered to serve in HCS Family Services’ new parent mentor program. Families and their mentors are expected to meet at a kick-off event in February.
   The program is part of HCS’ Elites program, which helps people achieve economic self-sufficiency. HCS leaders realized the need for such a program after talking to Elites clients.
   “A lot of families, especially single parents, were saying that they were really struggling with parenting and all the stress that comes from that,” said Susan Fritz, HCS executive director.
   For many families, making ends meet takes so much energy that it’s difficult to make parenting a priority, said Kim Stephens, case manager for Elites.
   “The whole reason this (program) came to fruition is they would tell me in our visiting they just don’t have enough time for the kids,” Stephens said.
   Other families are struggling because they don’t have appropriate boundaries or structure in place.
   “For instance, one mother talks to her children like they are her friends,” Stephens said. “She’ll tell them about her boyfriend or when they broke up or (discuss), ‘Why isn’t your dad sending us the rent money?’ ”
   Statistics show that people in poverty have a much higher chance of child neglect and abuse in their homes because of stress, Fritz said.
   “We feel that this program will help the children, but it will also help prevent that neglect, even abuse,” Fritz said.
   The mentors will offer support and guidance, and the mentees will need to be open to making some changes.
   “It’s going to take some new education and stepping out of their comfort zone,” Stephens said.
   After mentors are trained, they will take a class called the Nurturing Parent Program with their mentees. The mentor will be expected to work with the family for a year.
   “This is not just a one-time ‘I’m going to give two hours to the food pantry type of volunteering,’ ” Fritz said. “This is something they really need to commit to for a year and we’re asking them to commit four hours a week.”
   The 18 months Braico spent mentoring a 28-year-old single mother of three passed very quickly, she said.
   “It was hard to say goodbye,” she said. “It’s hard to know when it’s time to end that relationship. That’s part of the process, beginning it and finishing it and knowing when it’s team to reach out and help somebody else.”
   The young woman she worked with aspired to be a good parent but never had a competent role model.
   “She instinctively knew she wanted something different, but she didn’t know what that was because she never saw anything different,” Braico said.
   Braico worked with her on everything from simple tasks, such as saying grace before dinner, to helping her learn how to budget and move out of subsidized housing.
   Parents who are going through tough times often feel isolated, Braico said.
   “I found that when one of my children went through a very difficult time, I felt very alone as a mother and no one reached out to help,” she said. “I want to reach out and help because of that experience.”
   The ability to match up people like Braico who have something to give with others in need is what excites program coordinator Trayce Biancalana.
   “I would say that there is such a potential here for kind of paying it forward, multiplying our talents here,” she said. “Kim, Susan and I — we’re only three people, but with this program I think we have the potential to get so many more people in the community involved.”
   Seven people besides Braico have expressed interest in serving as a mentor, Fritz said.
   “Starting out with about six to eight families is just about right,” she said. “I think by the end of the year we’d like to be up to 25 families.
   “I think we’re going to have a huge impact on these families,” she added. “I think it will make a big difference.”

Program details

   The new parent mentoring program at HCS Family Services will be based on The Nurturing Parenting Programs developed by Stephen Bavolek.
   “The Nurturing Parenting Programs are developed from a strong philosophical basis that supports the growth and development of parents and children as caring people who treat themselves, others and the environment with respect and dignity,” the facilitator training workbook states.
   The program is based on five values.

   Value 1: A positive self-worth is critical to the ability to nurture one’s self, others and the environment. Parents and children who treat themselves with respect will in turn treat others with respect.

   Value 2: Empathy forms the foundation of nurturing parenting.

   Value 3: Children need to be empowered to make good choices and wise decisions through the use of their strong will and personal power. Developing a strong sense of personal power is a necessary element in becoming a nurturing individual.

   Value 4: Discipline is the practice of teaching children to be respectful, cooperative and contributing members to a family and society. Harsh and abusive language, hurting touch and punishment are viewed as disrespectful practices promoting rebellious and acting out behaviors. Parental practices of discipline must model the sought-after behavior of the child.

   Value 5: Humor, laughter and fun promote happiness in families, an optimistic view of life, an outlet for stress reduction and the chance to make living together as a family enjoyable. A happy child is an easier child to parent than a child with a negative, hostile attitude.


    Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between
The Hinsdalean and HCS Family Services, which works to
empower families and change lives.





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