Published Jan. 20, 2011
HCS program works to strengthen families
volunteer parent mentor program will give struggling
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
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
“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,”
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,”
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 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
The ability to match up people
like Braico who have something to give with others in
need is what excites program coordinator Trayce
“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
“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
“I think we’re going to have a
huge impact on these families,” she added. “I think it
will make a big difference.”
The new parent mentoring
program at HCS Family Services will be based on The
Nurturing Parenting Programs developed by Stephen
“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
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
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
The Hinsdalean and HCS Family Services, which works to
empower families and change lives.