Pilot program seeks to help families

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By John Barnhart

    Sometimes volunteering for something works out really well.

    Andy Crawford, Bedford County’s director of social services, attended a conference of social services directors from across the Commonwealth last year. At the conference, the state director of social services asked for volunteers among the local directors to come up with ideas that had the potential to be replicated elsewhere in Virginia. Crawford volunteered. He found out, after volunteering, that there was grant money attached.
    Friday, Crawford was at Lake Christian Ministries in Moneta to present $5,000 to them to start a Parent Café program. The money comes from a grant by Casey Family Programs and Bedford County Social Services is acting as a pass-through agency for the grant.
    Crawford said Social Services chose to partner with Lake Christian Ministries because this organization already has volunteers who are interested in doing this sort of work. They are also running a program to help families get jobs.
    He chose to partner with community organizations, rather than run it out of the department of social services so that it will be community based, rather than social services based. He also noted that some people are distrustful of government agencies. Crawford hopes to propagate the Parent Café concept across the county.
    Parent Café is new to Virginia, but Crawford said it has been used successfully in Illinois. He said Parent Cafés meet in community centers in Chicago.
    Parent Café consists of parents and a facilitator sitting around a round table, with food, and talking. The goal is to build what Crawford called “protective factors,” which are discussed at these informal meetings. The factors are listed on cards and the parents, rather than the facilitator, decide which factor to discuss at the meeting. This way the discussion focuses on what’s on the parents’ mind. One is discussed at each meeting.
    There are some basic ground rules for Parent Café meetings:

    • Speak from your own experience;

    • Listen attentively;

    • No judgement, either positive or negative;

    • Don’t give advice;
    • Confidentiality — What’s said in Parent Café stays in Parent Café;

    • Turn you cell phone off.

    Crawford stressed that Parent Cafés are for any parent. They don’t need to be in financial distress.
    “It’s a really neat program,” Crawford said.
    The goal is to help parents connect with other parents. Crawford said our society has become an isolated society. Many people do not have family, or a reliable family, nearby.
    Barbara Brush and Josselyn Gregory have been trained, during a two-day session held in Richmond, to both be facilitators and train other facilitators. They will hold their initial Parent Cafés with Lake Christian Ministries Volunteers with the goal of getting them interested in becoming facilitators themselves. The first will be held early this month.
    People who are interested in Parent Café may call Lake Christian Ministries at (540) 297-3214 or Andy Crawford at 586-7750.
Remote pantry
    Mike Bond, Lake Christian Ministries executive director said they will shut down their remote pantry at Three Oaks United Methodist Church, in Hardy, on Jan. 25. Their new remote pantry will open at Halesford Baptist Church on Feb. 22.
    “We would like to reach more folks in Franklin County,” Bond said. This new remote pantry will allow them to do that.
    For more information about Lake Christian Ministries, go to www.lcm-moneta.org.