Carolyn’s Online Magazine
LOOKING BACK AT
A CHILDREN’S TRUST FUND GRANT:
A FAMILY SUPPORT PROGRAM
IN A RURAL SETTING
I believe a person cannot rest on their laurels. What’s done in the past is done. Only what is done counts. However, reflecting on the past can offer encouragement in our current daily life.
And so this October day I reflect on Octobers past—1992 and 1994.
I was recovering from the flu, just regaining my voice, when the phone rang. It was mid-October 1992.
The caller was an official person informing me that the Pennsylvania Children’s Trust Fund grant application I’d submitted was accepted. They would fund a Family Support Program in the Greater Jamestown Area, under the umbrella of the Jamestown and State Line United Methodist Church Charge. The one-sentence summary of this child abuse prevention grant, having the intent to reduce child abuse, was (not exact words): Our goal is to break the chain of child abuse by healing the parent(s) of their childhood abuse and teaching them how to live a healthy lifestyle.
The Family Support Program was truly a “grass roots” venture. As the director I had a sociology degree and experience in a variety of human service areas. The “staff members” were community volunteers with a great interest in dealing with the family abuse issues and a desire to deal with the issues they were confronted with in their local, rural, community. These caring people didn’t want to bury their heads in the sand when confronted with abuse issues.
Because Jamestown was laid out in two counties, directors of the Children and Youth agencies in both the Crawford and Mercer county had to sign the grant application.
As grant administrator/president I received a stipend of $50—recommended to me by the Crawford County Children and Youth Agency. This stipend would provide substitute leadership when, at any point in the program, I was unable to fulfill my obligations. It also allowed me to occasionally have respite time in a job requiring 24/7 hours.
I discovered my work was cut out at our first Board of Directors meeting—none of the members could define the word “abuse,” although they understood its concept.
The importance of community members being staff was inherent in the concept that neighbors and friends are usually aware of existing problems, but they ignore them in frustration, not knowing what else to do. As the volunteers (and other community members) became more knowledgeable they gained confidence in dealing with community issues. They learned to first evaluate situations; second, to reach out to the neighbor at a new skill level, and third, to refer their neighbor to someone with higher skills when necessary.
Entering the third grant year evidence mounted that not only were community crises being increasingly met in an appropriate dynamic, but crises were being averted.
Having been the grant administrator/president I’d like to comment on true grass roots community programs, and what I discovered worked in a small community.
- First, although there is a lesser level of “professionalism” than official human service agencies have, community members can be effective in dealing with hurting families and individuals because there is an existing relationship with trust, caring, and concern that agency professionals cannot provide.
- Second, in rural communities, when the “staff member” resides beside the “client,” there is “presence” twenty-four hours a day.” Meaningful contacts are made at the grocery store, local “greasy spoon,” and in every other community activity. Yet, there was a downside. In small, isolated, communities, there is the stigma of being involved with a program such as the Family Support Program. I discovered many persons were reluctant to visit me for fear others would interpret their visit as “counseling” time.
- Third, gearing our program to be problem-specific wasn’t feasible. We had to be generalists, because our population base was small. We had to develop skills to meet any social service problem: suicide; broken families; teen (and other) homelessness; effects of intergenerational problems
- Fourth, because of the casualness inherent in the program there was difficulty defining “client contacts,” necessary for grant record-keeping. How do you define contact hours when they include meetings on the street, in stores, over coffee in the local diner? When you are pulled aside by a neighbor who relates they are feeling suicidal, or that they are under super stress, and that the time spent supporting the neighbor through “casual conversation” averts a crisis? Or you’re sitting with someone, for hours, in the diner, educating them in abuse-prevention behavior? How do you define expenses where such informality exists? How do you count damage that isn’t done, police calls that were averted? How do you count families or individuals that were enabled to function at higher levels because their neighbors not only cared, but they knew intervention techniques?
Developing knowledge and skill in community members can produce extraordinary results. Local people have a deep understanding of the families, the history, and the problems of the community. Ordinary “tea time/coffee klatch” gatherings and phone contacts provide a route of healing for hurting persons.
Our grant ran for three years, ending with a celebration, at which politician Olivia Lazor spoke. The flier we handed out listed our accomplishments (see list at end of article).
The director of the Crawford County Children and Youth told me when he signed off on the grant he didn’t expect much, but he was greatly surprised at our programming and accomplishments.
Doing the impossible at the start of the grant program became a reality, a fact I recall when I’m confronted with a difficult task today. Things accomplished in the Family Support Program, under my leadership, encourage me on my march through life.
The official program ended when I moved to a new community. In my new setting I knew I couldn’t sit in my rocking chair and rest on my laurels. That’s not what life is about. Thus, I moved on, becoming a writographer. I meld the past into my writing by promoting knowledge in domestic and child abuse issues.
My relationship with some of life’s hurting people who crossed my path continues, and I am supportive of new people who are hurting.
The Family Support Program achieved the following during its existence:
- Three Six-Hour Child Abuse Issues classes
- A two-part parenting class presented by Mercer County Drug and Alcohol Agency
- A nutrition program at the Food Pantry
- GED classes
- Two Bible studies
- Dr. Phil E. Quinn, national child abuse expert (adult, youth, professional sessions)
- Marilyn Van Derbur (via video tape), 1958 Miss America, on incest
- Krista Blake on AIDS
- Olivia Lazor at ending celebration
Forums/Round Table Discussions:
- End of life issues
- Abuse issues: Women’s Shelters of Mercer and Crawford counties and St. Michael’s Catholic Church counselor
- Suicide intervention with representatives from Mercer, Crawford, and Trumbell (Ohio) Counties
- Medical Ethics Round Table (Twice)
- Issues of ADD/HD
- Issues on OBE
- A pastor sermon competition, Mercer/Crawford counties
- A suicide postvention group
- Three Summer Fun Fests
- Two parade floats
- Child Care Class
- After school tutoring
- Child care during GED classes
- Built floats for the Jamestown Fair parades (adult participants, too)
Family Support Program Staff/Public Training
- Marilyn Van Derbur on Incest, in person in Pittsburgh
- Dr. Twerski, Gate Rehab., on drug and alcoholism
- Counseling Training by MCJAC
- Numerous seminars on child sex abuse
- Children’s Trust Fund Symposium, Harrisburg, 1992 and 1994
- State Pastor’s meetings 1991, 1992, 1994
- Child care training through Mercer County Extension
- A story telling workshop
- Bridging the Gap, the Cocaine Addicted Infant
- Mercer County Child abuse Update
- Creative Counseling, MCJAC
- National Child Abuse conference in Pittsburgh
- A 5-week program on the family
Presence for families experiencing everything from routine parenting and/or problems to:
- Providing support for youth unable to continue living in their own families
- For adults suffering the effects of childhood physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse
- For families struggling with problems of blended families
- For parent-teen estrangement resolution
- For those dealing with the aftermath of suicide
- For crisis support following family home fires
- For dealing with a well-loved local community member charged and convicted of child molestation