Strengthening the fabric of family | AspenTimes.com

Strengthening the fabric of family

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

Parenting is perhaps the most important job that anyone performs. It's also one of the hardest jobs, even under the best circumstances.

So when a family is under pressure of one kind or another — financial, legal, emotional, logistical or anything else — even the best mother or father can falter. And when a family slides into child abuse or neglect, the ill effects can last for a lifetime.

We can all agree on the importance of loving, supportive relationships at home, especially where children are concerned. These family bonds are the literal building blocks of success in adult life, and I'd like to introduce you to two organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley that help equip and empower parents to do their best.

Back in 1983, local human-service providers identified an increase in child abuse, and the community response was to establish Family Visitor Programs. Now 32 years old, this Glenwood Springs-based organization provides at-home education and support to new parents from pregnancy till the baby is 2 years old. Nurses and experienced parents visit these families in the home to teach basic skills, from nursing a newborn to soothing a crying infant to baby-proofing a living room. By giving skills and self-confidence to first-time parents, these visits help to reduce stress in families and nurture healthy babies who can eventually become good students and citizens.

Family Visitor Programs serves 425 families per year, including teen mothers. Garfield County's teen birth rate is double the statewide average at 42 births per 1,000 teens. It and other home-visitation programs have been shown to yield good results for these and other at-risk mothers — healthier infants, early identification of developmental issues, improved potential for success in school and even drops in successive pregnancies among low-income teenage moms. All of this remarkable work is performed for free.

When children are of school age, families still encounter many barriers and challenges that prevent kids from succeeding. In the typical classroom in the Roaring Fork School District (Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs), half of students have nonacademic problems that impede their learning. These problems range from hunger and homelessness to medical and dental ailments.

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When a community task force connected these dots back in the mid-'90s, the Aspen Community Foundation helped launch the district's first Family Resource Center in Basalt. Additional centers followed in Carbondale in 1998 and Glenwood Springs in 2001, answering a districtwide need that classroom teachers and school nurses could not meet.

Today, all 12 schools in the district have an on-site Family Resource Center liaison to assist families with a wide variety of services. On any given day, a liaison might help a family to fill out an insurance form or obtain food stamps. The next day, they might host a parent-education class or arrange an after-school tutor for a struggling student. All in all, the centers assist more than 800 families per year in a broad effort to remove nonacademic barriers to learning.

Despite the Roaring Fork Valley's reputation of abundance, our greater community has very real social problems, including poverty, language barriers and obvious inequities that are both economic and educational. By serving parents and kids in need and strengthening the fabric of families throughout the valley, Family Visitor Programs and the Family Resource Centers are examples of organizations building a better future for the entire Aspen-to-Parachute region.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.

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