Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Guiding families
Parents always have questions when it comes to their children and for a dozen years The Family Center of Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods has been the go-to resource providing those answers.

by Ann L. Fouty

August 30, 2012

The Family Center of Grosse Pointe and Harper Woods can be described as a guide post.

“(It’s) a compass to point you in the right direction for you to explore and make your own decisions,”said Debbie Liedel, the center’s executive director.

In its 12th year, the volunteer-driven organization taps local experts to provide advice and input on everything from how to manage a crying newborn to selecting the right college for a child. Additionally, every hospital in the area lends experts to answer parents’ questions and dilemmas. The center has educators, physical and mental health professionals, clergy and counselors of all kinds to provide the advice.

Information is dispersed through programs, lectures and weekly Ask The Experts columns in the Grosse Pointe News. Individual questions are addressed privately and referred to the appropriate expert, as well.

“The organization has doubled or tripled in the last four years,” Liedel said. “We are pushing 20 programs this year with one director, one office staff and 100 volunteers.”

A core team and advisory committee, all volunteers, are the eyes and ears of The Family Center to keep programs relevant, including the most recent topic — bullying.

Parents’ concerns about bullying are addressed by staff from the Grosse Pointe Public School System and DMC Children’s Hospital, at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30, Parcells Middle School auditorium.

Liedel said programs do follow trends, for example to whom are children listening? The response is the informational session — Parents vs. friends — the first topic of the 2012 -13 season, at 7 p.m. Sept. 25, at Brownell Middle School.

“As a family therapist and a parent of three school-aged children, I have a great respect for the mission of The Family Center,” said Mary Beth Garvey, the center’s past president, board member and one of the center’s experts. “Given how difficult it can be to parent in today’s culture, it is more critical than ever to support parents in their efforts to raise competent, caring and responsible community members.

“The Family Center is uniquely poised to meet the needs of our families. Our programming is grounded in the feedback that comes from the many strategic alliances we have in the community — be it health, mental health, education or public safety. Collaboration with the experts who work most closely with children allows us to respond proactively to emerging trends, potential crises and the issues that most impact families.”

Gabrielle Deschaine moved to Grosse Pointe Park five years ago with a young son and daughter. Her first contact with the center was to solve a problem.

“I am a stay-at-home mom and I noticed a flyer on a lecture on how to sooth a crying baby,” she said.

Deschaine declares the center as an amazing community resource, always willing to find the answer to parents’ questions and getting parents the help they need.

Donning her mental health counselor hat, Deschaine said she keeps her creditation current by attending lectures and contributing Ask the Experts columns.

The Family Center isn’t all serious information, it sponsors fun family activities such as Play Central, ChariTea Bear’s Tea Party and the Cookie and LEGO Artists challenges. Each incorporates a learning component, such as the cookie challenge in which entrants bake cookies from scratch. Several entrants are the outcome of best friends getting together to share a mutual interest. Others have included family members or use of a recipe with a story behind it.

Play Central gives parents and caregivers an opportunity to connect and socialize at Barnes Early Learning Center as preschoolers are introduced to group play. It helps those who don’t have roots in the community, Liedel said.

Noting its popularity, Play Central has increased its offerings from two days a week to four and from October to May instead of the established November to April.

“I participate in Play Central,” said Heather Burgess of the City of Grosse Pointe, “a play group at Barnes that features an open gym time as well as Play Central Plus, which is a more structured program that helps prepare children for preschool. There is truly something for every child. Having three children, 4, 2 and 10 months, this is very helpful. It is so amazing to see their progress from the beginning of the program to the end.”

LEGO Challenge offers children, from elementary through high school, a chance to create their own structures from the plastic bricks.

ChariTea Bear gives youngsters a chance to dress up, socialize, attend a tea party and donate a stuffed animal to a children’s nonprofit organization.

Proceeds from the center’s fundraising pay for its staff of two, presenting programs and printing flyers and invitations. This year’s fundraisers are the fourth annual hay ride from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, in Windmill Pointe Park; and 10th annual Holly Fest at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Grosse Pointe Club.

The Holly Fest is the center’s signature fundraiser for the development and delivery of programs, providing the direction for parents to explore their options, but a necessary resource for Grosse Pointe parents who want answers, Liedel said.