When Week of the Young Child was celebrated back in April, Families First in Homer rocked the town with the sheer variety and number of events and activities offered: from playgroups and story hours to education forums and mini-workshops on parenting. They also launched Imagination Library, enrolling 140 children right off the bat.
Families First in Homer is one of 11 early childhood partnerships organized with the help of Best Beginnings. The partnerships are collaborative efforts designed to identify the needs of young children in their communities and figure out how to address those needs. It’s challenging work, but Families First in Homer is racking up successes. The collaboration of existing organizations is working well, and they offer parenting classes, lectures and workshops.
Their latest project involves working with the City of Homer and a large cadre of volunteers to add equipment and improvements to local parks, making them more appropriate for young children.
Families First is co-chaired by Bonnie Betley, a public health nurse with the Alaska Department of Health, and Lolita Brache, who teaches adult basic education classes at the University of Alaska Kachemak Bay Campus. They share some of the lessons they’ve learned, both overall and from Week of the Young Child events:
- Don’t give up. The first year, it was slow getting started. It would go in fits and starts. The group changed and shifted, there were moments when it was “oh, are we going to pull this off?” Keep bringing in new people. People have to take breaks. Don’t worry. They’ll come back. You have to honor what people can give and when they can give it. And it works out.
- If you want parents to show up, you must provide child care and not just a baby-sitter. Model what you preach by providing fun and interactive activities for the children.
- Hiring a highly organized coordinator with 10 dedicated hours a week to chase the details has been incredibly valuable.
- Go where your audience already gathers. Don’t expect parents and providers to come to you. Go to their facilities. Just because you hold it, doesn’t mean they will come.
- Plan early; publicize early and often. Families First made a presentation to the Homer City Council, posted flyers, published a column in the local paper, encouraged letters to the editor, and announced events on public radio.
Betley and Brache said Families First benefits from being part of a larger community partnership called MAPP (Motivating Action through Planning and Partnership) Southern Kenai Peninsula Communities Project. This group has done surveys and collected data that coincide with that collected by Best Beginnings. The community has identified a number of priorities for creating a healthier community, with healthier members; and agencies and individuals are developing new and better ways to work together. That’s what Families First is all about!