The high school was packed. A beloved teacher in Sisters had recently passed away. As the crowd hushed, a longtime friend addressed the assembly, reminiscing about the time their families met. "We connected when our two sons were in Together For Children and became fast friends," she said. Their boys and the families had remained very close throughout the years, thanks to a parenting and play group program that created a strong community and lifelong bonds. There were many other families in the audience that day that shared memories of their time together when their children were toddlers in TFC.
TFC is a parent participation program that offers interactive play, children's activities, parent education and family networking for those with children from ages birth through 3. Patterned after the Missouri-based program, "Parents as Teachers," the program initially provided weekly group time and monthly home visits conducted by early childhood/parent educators with the mission of helping parents develop skills, understand child development and learn appropriate behavior and activities for their children. Although the last 10 years has tested the program with a drastic loss of funding and even a two-year hiatus, the exciting news is that TFC will once again open its doors this fall to provide a much-needed service for families of Central Oregon who are navigating the oft-uncertain waters of parenting.
In 1989, Carol Stiles, Theresa Hogue and Dina Boswell of Bend envisioned a Pre-Head Start opportunity. With the help of Oregon state senators, Neil Bryant and Bev Clarno, they obtained a biannual grant of $324,000. The program began as a pilot project serving 150 families annually throughout Central Oregon. Additional funding was provided through grants from the Oregon Community Foundation, The Shelk Foundation and the Deschutes Commission on Children and Families.
For 14 years TFC was part of a consortium of family services, administered by Central Oregon Community College. Although independently funded, the agencies worked closely together to provide a continuum of early childhood services.
Unfortunately, in 2001, legislative funds were diminishing and COCC discontinued their support of the consortium. The administration of TFC transferred to the High Desert Education Service District, Lynette Patterson, the original director, left the program andEdieJones became the head.
In 2003 TFC lost all state funding, in spite of glowing tributes from parents and solid positive results. To remain in operation, they became a nonprofit tax-exempt corporation, created a Board of Directors, and went from 13 staff members to four part-timers. Tuition was charged, services were reduced from 36 to 27 weeks and home visits were eliminated. The year started with a budget of $37,000, gained through fees, grants, and diligent fund-raising efforts — a huge decrease from the 2001 budget of $210,000. By 2005 TFC operated completely independently of HDESD.
Over the next 10 years groups continued, however, due to lack of funds, the breadth of the program diminished. In 2016 TFC began a two-year hiatus to re-evaluate the current needs of families with young children in Central Oregon.
Fortunately, today, in 2018, a rebirth is taking place. The mission of the program, to enhance the lives of children by strengthening families, remains the same. However, the main focus is on ways to connect families in a healthy, helpful, supportive environment current with today's society. Two overwhelming needs have been identified:
• Parents of young children often feel isolated and alone.
• The impact of social media has brought on a barrage of criticism on different styles of parenting.
TFC's present emphasis will be to build a community that eliminates that isolation and focuses on a non-judgmental environment.
Goals for the program are to help parents understand and enhance their child's early development (ages birth through 3 years) through parent participation groups. In addition, TFC will:
• Prepare children for emotional, social and school readiness.
• Provide a research-based program on parenting methods in order to increase knowledge and skills.
• Offer opportunities for networking with other families, as well as with community agencies and public schools.
• Decrease stress by providing tools for use immediately.
Parents with children in the birth through 3-year-old range should keep their eyes and ears open for membership opportunities, play group experiences, discounts at local businesses and opportunities to learn and practice the many skills needed to raise young children through the new website together-for-children.org.
The philosophy hasn't changed — only some of the ways the program will be implemented, making it an even better resource to help with the most difficult job anyone will ever have: that of raising a child.
An annual TFC tradition, this September 19, families with young children will once again enjoy the fun of building a giant sand pile and climbing on huge machinery at the Big Rig Celebration, sponsored by Knife River and TFC. This will be the first of events coming later in the year, geared especially for the youngest residents, with the goal of building connections with parents.
Edie Jones is the author of Raising Kids With Love, Honor, and Respect: Recipes for Success recipes4raisingkids.com