September 4, 2007

Parents still getting Together for Children, years later

Photo by Anthony Diamaano/copyright Redmond Spokesman

Together for Children may be an education and support group for parents and their children birth through age three, but a dozen years after one group of families began meeting for support and fellowship the toddlers are now teenagers and they’re still meeting.

According to the adults, the discipline and communication skills they learned to use years ago with their toddlers remain applicable with teens.

“The teacher said we’d use the same tips for dealing with stubborn 2 –and -3-year-olds again when the kids were teenagers,” said Shena Halderman.

Halderman, Tina Goeser, Valerie Knobel, Cathy Paxton and their families met through Together for Children more than a decade ago. The families found each other as they set out to get parenting information, help and support, and to meet people. They didn’t know each other before that.

Halderman joined Together for Children when her 14-year-old daughter, Beth, was about 18 months old

because she wanted some new parenting tools. When her daughter turned 18 months “it was time to discipline, but I felt like I didn’t know enough,” she said.

Goeser, Knobel and Paxton found TFC when they arrived as new residents to the community with young children and no support systems.

Goeser moved here from out of state with her 2 1/2-year-old son, Mark Alward. He needed to be with other children and there weren’t any in her neighborhood, Goeser said, and it was wintertime.

When Valerie Knobel moved to Redmond she asked about parent groups as a way to meet people.

“I needed some grown-ups,” said Knobel, whose children are Ryan, 17, and Jennifer 14.

Paxton also joined after moving here with her first child. Her nurse practitioner suggested Together for Children.

There were about 10 families in their original “class.” When the families’ youngest children turned four and too old for the birth to three program, the teacher suggested that they set up an alumni group.

“We (the parents) didn’t want to leave,” Halderman said.

The group had potlucks once a month. Originally, they tried to do themed meals from different countries and have the kids research the food and culture, “but that didn’t work, so we just ate,” Paxton laughed.

The gatherings let them support each as parents in the methods and philosophy of Together for Children.

“We kept meeting to remember all the things we’d learned.” Halderman said.

Recently, Halderman went to dinner at a home with children who were 3 and 1 ½. When the mother talked to the children, Halderman recognized the vocabulary she’d learned all those years ago in Together for Children

“It was just what Edie (Jones) taught us,” she said. For example, don’t label children -- call them cautious, a more positive connotation, rather than shy, and give children choices, such as “Would you like to share with your brother or sit in your room?”

“I don’t remember choices. I remember consequences,” said Ryan Knobel.

The elements of the program, such as boundaries and logical consequences for actions, are things the children will use their entire lives, said Beth Ann Wilson, longtime Redmond coordinator.

The women said the families will continue to meet, even as the kids start to leave home.

“We’ve got big plans for when they’re gone,” Paxton said.

Travel or meetings in Hawaii maybe, popped up around the table amidst laughter shared by parents and their teens.

-- Story by Trish Pinkerton

Together for Children (TFC) was created in 1987 as a result of direction by Oregon State Legislators. The pilot program for parents and their children birth through age three was designed to provide early childhood education to the children and education, resources and support to the parents.

Today the state no longer funds Together for Children. It is a non-profit corporation that relies on grants, donations and tuition from participating families. As a result the program in Redmond has languished in recent years, but efforts are under way to revive it. Part of that effort includes finding a new meeting place. In the past TFC met in the Becky Johnson Center, but other programs have expanded and the center is completely full except for a few times that wouldn’t work, said Edie Jones, executive director of Together for Children in Deschutes County.

The program needs a place with a meeting room for parents and an activity room for the children. TFC has all of the supplies and equipment.

“We just need a place to call home,” said Beth Ann Wilson, Redmond coordinator.

While the TFC began as a program for families who were considered at-risk for child abuse, it grew to include all families who were interested in improving their parenting or in need of support.

By combining high-need families with parents experiencing normal anxieties about child rearing, the learning can become richer and the community is strengthened, Wilson said.

“Everybody shares the same experience of getting an 18-month-old dressed and in the car,” she said. “Everybody’s in the same boat being a parent.”

TFC classes run from September until May in three nine-week sessions. The weekly two-hour classes include time for parents and children to do activities together, followed by time apart, where children do activities with early childhood educators, while parents meet for education and discussion of issues they might be going through, Jones explained.

Cost is $350 a year per family with one child. A second child is an additional $50. In Redmond a grant from Deschutes County allows TFC to offer scholarships to reduce the cost.

Registration for this year’s sessions is scheduled for Sept. 12, and a Spanish language class is planned.

For more information on the Together for Children program, to register for classes or to offer classroom space, call Jones at 389-9317.

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