By Patsy Haber for Lopez Island Family Resource Center
Everyone who has lived into their 20s knows that being a teen or tween can be a tumultuous time. The highs are higher, the lows are lower and “growing pains” are pretty much guaranteed. Navigating awkward social dynamics, blossoming acne and an increasing desire for independence can be a challenge for youth as well as their families.
I remember wishing for more resources to help me through the adolescent years with my kids, and there simply wasn’t much available on the island, until now. Last January, educators from Washington State University came to Lopez for a Strengthening Families 10–14 training. We now have 18 trained and certified program facilitators county-wide, using a curriculum developed by Iowa State University. The Lopez Island Family Resource Center just finished the first Strengthening Families Program for Lopez families and is already planning for a fall class. Orcas and San Juan islands plan to start programs as well.
This Strengthening Families Program focuses on families with youth ages 10–14 years old. Activities teach parents and caregivers skills to support their children during their tween and teen years so they can establish the foundation for a strong relationship through their teen years and beyond. A variety of parenting ideas are shared so parents can build a toolset of skills that work best for them and their family. On the same hand, the youth are learning too. Tools are shared to orient them towards a healthy future, including things like goal setting, good decision making, and how to handle stress and peer pressure. The World Health Organization rated the program as one of the most effective for protecting against substance abuse. Appreciation for parents and caregivers is also encouraged as part of the program.
Active and often amusing activities and games are built into the curriculum. The program is fun and positive, even while dealing with serious topics. The need for families to not only care for each other but to have fun together is emphasized.
The course meets weekly for seven weeks. Each session of the recently finished course started with a healthy meal donated by community partners. The families then split into three groups. Younger children attended onsite child care. Youth ages 10–14 headed off to a facilitated youth program led by Isaac Berg and Elizabeth Metcalf; and parents and caregivers met with the parent facilitator Lorry White. After an hour, the parent and youth groups reunited for another hour of family activities, ending each session with a closing circle that strengthened the concepts learned that week.
It is a commitment for families, but we are excited to report that all seven participating families completed the program. The last session on May 1 ended with a high school panel meeting with the youth and a family graduation celebration. We are so grateful for the many community partners and dedicated facilitators who helped make this program possible. Special thanks to Lopez Community Church for providing space, and for the following organizations and individuals for providing meals: Lopez Village Market, Dharma Book Study Group, Grace Episcopal Church, Jennifer Sanford, Lopez Locavores, Lopez Island Quaker Group and Lopez Island School District Board of Trustees, superintendent and principal. Special thanks also to the Lopez and San Juan Island Prevention Coalitions, SAFE San Juans, San Juan County and the state of Washington DSHS/DBHR/DMA Grant for funding assistance.
Contact Patsy Haber at 360-468-4117 or firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about the upcoming fall Strengthening Families 10–14 Program or to find out how you can become a community partner.