Center offers hope for families

The Family Resource Center offers in-home visits, parenting classes, group activities, referrals to other social service agencies, in addition to the Toasty Toddler coat program, Stuff the Bus school supply campaign and Week of the Young Child activities.

Denise Adams, the center’s interim director, succeeded Susanna Tomlinson who retired last year. Adams works with Imola Wible and Julie Colabove, parent educators/family development specialists. Adams spoke last week with Mirror reporter Kay Stephens about the center’s programs.

Mirror: Blair County has had a Family Resource Center since February 1995. What is its main focus and who does it serve?

Adams: Parents as Teachers is our primary direct service program, and our clients are parents of children, prenatal through kindergarten entry. The program is free. Its focus is home visitations, where we observe parent-child interaction, provide coaching and then talk with parents on how to work with their child and how to get the most out of a child, so that the child advances.

Mirror: What kind of traits are you looking in children?

Adams: We’re assessing a child, through the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, which concentrates on fine and gross motor skills, cognitive thinking skills, social and emotional skills and problem solving skills. If we see what might be a red flag for children … then we can make referrals.

Mirror: What else does the center do?

Adams: Once a month, we have group events for parents and children. Most are centered around education, but we also organize the event so parents can see other children interact with their children and so they can speak with other parents.

The parents learn a lot from us, but I think they also learn a lot from the perspective of another parent.

Mirror: How many families are you serving through these two programs?

Adams: We probably have 56 families right now. The maximum we could serve, with the current staff, would be around 60. Before Susanna Tomlinson retired, the agency was probably serving around 70 families.

Mirror: How would you describe the families you work with?

Adams: It’s a very eclectic mix. We have teenage parents. We have grandparents who are parenting. We have low income parents, families with two working parents and some families who are a little more (economically) successful. The trend this fiscal year has been that we have more lower income families, with parents who just aren’t able to work for whatever reason.

Mirror: How does that trend affect your programs?

Adams: While we’ve always focused on getting children ready for school and encouraging them to go to preschool … we’re now also looking at more basic needs, such as how to help families maintain their shelter, what we can do to get them referrals to food banks, where to go when they’re in need of diapers. I think those kind of needs have become more significant for our families. And a lot of our families do not have transportation.

Mirror: What areas of the county do you serve?

Adams: The parent educators go everywhere in Blair County, and basically, we have at least one family in every area. The majority of our families are in Altoona and Hollidaysburg, probably because of our location.

Mirror: Can you tell me about the “Make Parenting a Pleasure” class, scheduled weekly for 10 weeks, starting Feb. 5, from 1:30 to 3 p.m?

Adams: One thing I want to stress is that parenting skills do not come with your income. Parenting skills come from experience, knowledge and the right information at the right time. There’s always going to be questions about parenting … and we have parenting classes, which give you the basics on how to take care of yourself and help you become a better parent. The classes focus on nurturing, child development, discipline issues, the whole gamut. And it does require parents to take on a little bit of homework but not too much.

Mirror: Tell me about this year’s Toasty Toddler program.

Adams: Unlike other programs that provide coats for school-age children, Toasty Toddler provides warm winter outerwear to children from birth through 4 years old. The program originated with the Blair County Human Service Office when workers noticed a gap in services for the smallest children. We are now the program facilitator, and we solicit monetary contributions or donations of new coats, hats, gloves, snowpants, blankets to be distributed in the community. The collection starts in September, and distribution typically begins in the first full week of November. But the requests usually keep coming and by late December, we had served 370 children.

Mirror: What kind of reaction do you get to this program?

Adams: One little boy – he was 3 years old – came in with his mom and grandma, and he was really in need of a new coat. We had one set aside for him, and they opened the bag and tried it on him and he started to get excited. Then we gave him a hat and showed him the books he could choose from. With this year’s Toasty Toddler program, we had books to hand out because a Girl Scout troop collected used children’s books. And then he asked us: “You mean I get a hat and books too?” He was just so excited. That’s what makes it worthwhile.

Mirror: You also offer a program to provide school supplies?

Adams: It’s called Stuff the Bus and we put together backpacks and school supplies for distribution to children, preschool through grade 12. This year, donations will be collected from June 24 to Aug. 1 at several local businesses. Last year, the program provided school supplies for 754 children.

Mirror: Will the center be involved in Week of the Young Child in 2014?

Adams: Yes. The annual event which promotes the importance of early learning, quality child care, school readiness and healthy families is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 12 at Penn State Altoona. The 2013 event attracted 390 children and parents.

Mirror: Besides announcements published in the Mirror, how do people learn about your programs or services?

Adams: We get referrals from other agencies, other programs, schools, some doctor’s offices. I think a lot of it comes from word-of-mouth, from other parents who know about us. … We have a lot of families that call in and say: “My friend got a coat there and my daughter needs a coat. We’re laid off this year.” The same thing happens with backpacks and

school supplies.

Mirror: How is your agency funded?

Adams: We are funded through the state Office of Children, Youth and Families. In June, we heard we would be getting a budget cut this year, and it was supposed to be at least 10 percent. So we have waited patiently and patiently and patiently, and by the grace of United Way of Blair County, they’ve kept us afloat. On Dec. 23, we received this [letter]. They’re just now releasing our funds, and we have a 12.1 percent cut.

Mirror: What’s the mean in terms of dollars?

Adams: For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the agency received $193,676. The 12.1 percent cut means that amount will be reduced by $23,434, which is a lot of money. In addition, the agency must raise about $17,000 as a cash match to secure the state’s 2013-14 allocation of $170,241.

Mirror: How does the agency raise money or make up the loss of state dollars?

Adams: We actively apply for grants, and we’ve received a few, but they’re small. And we’ve sought sponsors for our bigger parent/child activities. Before the expenses of those activities would always come out of program funds. We also do some fundraising. We have hoagie sales. This year we had a poinsettia sale and a cookie dough sale. We’re looking to do one big event, but we’re not sure exactly what that should be. But we’re heading into the second part of the fiscal year and so we have to get on that right away.

Mirror: How do you gauge the success of your center?

Adams: When you look at the number of participants in our programs, it adds up to about 1,500 people – children or parents – that we’re helping every year. That’s a lot of people and a lot of impact for the little bit of money the state is giving us.

The Family Resource Center is located at 5414 Sixth Ave. It can be contacted at 941-7711 or by email: