HEALTHY FAMILIES

Yvonne Frazier, left, program manager for Healthy Families-Shenandoah County, and Laurie Robinson, family support specialist, discuss how the program has helped families in Page and Shenandoah counties. The local branch of the national Healthy Families organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

WOODSTOCK – The impact that Healthy Families-Shenandoah County has had on the community over the last 20 years can be seen through the children and parents it’s served.

Many parents join the program when their children are babies or even while mothers are still expecting, said Program Manager Yvonne Frazier. The program aims to provide prospective and struggling parents with the tools to be successful during the first five years of their journey.

Graduation from the program normally happens when children are approaching their 5th birthday, but can also take place sooner. This year’s graduation ceremony was held Thursday night and honored five local families who have made it through the program.

Even after graduation, Healthy Families enjoys hearing back from families celebrating milestones such as when their children graduate from high school, go off to college or become parents themselves.

“That’s really rewarding too, to think of 20 years and know that some of the children that we worked with as little ones are now graduating and doing really well,” Frazier said.

“That helps us feel like we’ve done what we needed to. Most of the moms or dads, when they join the program, have something going on in their life in particular that has been stressful.”

Success is also seen in the parents who attend the program.

“Any time we have a teen mom graduating high school, that is a really, really big deal for us,” Frazier said.

Healthy Families America is a national program serving 100,000 families annually, the organization reports at its website, https://www.healthyfamiliesamerica.org.

The Shenandoah chapter, which also works with Page County, was at its maximum capacity of 33 families leading up to this week’s graduation.

Over 20 years, the chapter has served more than 350 families.

There are many reasons why parents might join Healthy Families-Shenandoah County.

Some are referred by their doctor or through the Health Department’s WIC system. Others are referred by friends already in the program, and some might refer themselves.

There’s no specific qualifying factor to get help from Healthy Families, but there are specific benefits that graduates of the program will gain.

Parents gain knowledge and confidence in how to better manage the trials of parenthood, and children gain skills to make them school-ready.

It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved, Frazier said.

One of the biggest ways the program helps families is by meeting people at their homes and supplying rides to doctor’s appointments or job interviews.

“If they have to go to the services, that can be a barrier as well,” Frazier said. “The fact that we go to a home overcomes that for a lot of families.”

Healthy Families staff are trained social workers and educators, or they’re seniors at James Madison University studying to be social workers. They provide 700-800 home visits a year. Offering home visits also helps them see the situations affecting children and how they can provide better services.

“A child’s environment really impacts their development and behavior,” Frazier said. “... So being able to go to the home and see that helps us to be able to guide that parent and maybe make some suggestions.”

“We really believe that parents want to be the best parent they can be,” she continued. “We feel like going to the home makes that difference.”

Most parents in the program are single or first-time parents struggling to get by. Other families might join after the birth of a second or third child, or if they have multiples and find themselves overwhelmed at home.

“We all need support,” said Frazier, who’s noticed that parents who don’t have family nearby to help them are at greater risk of needing help from services like Healthy Families.

“We can be that listening ear,” she said. “We can be that support.”

Services are available for children with special needs, and Frazier said Healthy Families relies on donations and its community partners through hospitals, schools and the health department.

After families graduate, they’re often enrolled in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Head Start program, which provides services to young children and their families, or the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which provides state funds to help at-risk 4-year-olds not served by the federal Head Start program.

Both services help provide that next piece of community support available to families, Frazier said. Parents might also continue with Healthy Families if they have a younger child who still needs services.

Frazier said sometimes what helps families most is simply having someone they can contact with their concerns – someone to listen and offer emotional support. Being about to build that relationship with people they can count on is a little bit different than what they might find through other types of community services, Frazier said.

“We’re more about that continuing relationship.”

For more information on Healthy Families-Shenandoah County, call 540-459-8558 or visit https://shenandoahpage.wixsite.com/healthyfamilies.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com