BUCKHANNON — Four months ago, Upshur County Family Resource Network director Lori Ulderich Harvey discovered that Upshur County did not have an established daytime group for families. With a grant from the Pallottine Foundation of Buckhannon, Harvey teamed up with members of West Virginia Birth to Three, Lewis-Upshur parents and teachers and the HAPI project to launch Family Connections. Family Connections is a group based in Upshur County where families are invited to the Buckhannon City Park to learn tips about raising children, enjoy refreshments and partake in family activities. Harvey said the group is informal because it is easier to make connections in the group that way.
“It creates an informal support group,” Harvey said. “When people sit down and start talking, you’re always either eating or playing, so there is no pressure and people seem to engage a lot more that way.”
When families first arrive, JJ Johnson of the Youth Health Service and the Home Ties Strengthening Center gives them a lesson about common hurdles in raising small children.
“I try to support anyone who comes by,” Johnson said, “teaching them about childhood development, positive parenting, how to teach the kids about feelings and how to reach out for help if they need it, and I taught them about community resources available to them.”
While the lesson is going on for the parents, the kids are treated to pizza and other snacks. After lunch, the whole group takes part in a family activity that usually includes a craft.
Jodi McQuillan from the HAPI project said the activities are designed to stimulate the senses.
“Sensory stuff affects so much when they are little, because that’s how they learn, so we try to have activities that work with the senses,” she said.
One example project involves making sensory bottles, where bottles are filled with rice and a small object such as a plastic blue dog. The child can shake the bottle and look for the object, and McQuillan said this helps their object recognition and eyesight. This week, they made butterflies out of baby wipes and clothing pins and then colored them with markers. The next meeting in August will have the kids coloring spaghetti with food dye and playing with the noodles.
“They’re going to see all these colors,” McQuillan said. “They’re going to get sensory interaction with handling the noodles, and they are going to get messy.”
Anyone who attends the meeting in August is recommended to wear clothes you do not mind getting colored with the food dye.
Harvey said the group is meant for any kind of family.
“It’s similar to mommy and me programs,” Harvey said, “but I know not every child is being raised by a mother, they’re being raised by others or the moms might just be somewhere else during the day and grandma can bring them.”
Each meeting also features door prizes and the kids who attend always go home with a new book to read. The next meeting will be Aug. 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Buckhannon City Park. In case of rain, the group meets at Stockert Youth Center. The group’s Facebook is Upshur FRN, and for more information, Harvey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.