“We are an organization of hope”

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DANBURY — Rhonda Neal thanks her parents for making her the person and mother she is.

But for mothers and fathers who may have been neglected as children, parenthood can be difficult because they don’t always have positive experiences to learn from, she said.

“The environment plays a part in how they are raised,” said Neal, executive director of the Saint Joseph Parenting Center. “You can’t demonstrate something you haven’t learned.”

The Saint Joseph Parenting Center is opening its second location in Danbury at 46 Stone St – a property close to the city center and accessible by public transport. The center celebrates its opening with a ribbon cutting on Wednesday morning and will launch its first classes on March 1.

The non-profit organization, founded in Stamford in 2009, will offer parenting education classes to fathers and mothers with children aged 12 and under.

Programs target families who may be at risk of child abuse and neglect, teaching parents about child development, communication, budgeting with limited resources, anger management, life skills and Moreover.

“I want parents to come in and understand that this is not a place where they are judged, but where they are loved and supported, so that we can achieve our vision of children living in a world free of abuse. and neglect, said Danbury center manager Crystal Perkins.

Empower parents

Moving to Danbury has always been the organization’s goal, Neal said.

“Danbury is so far west that sometimes people forget about us,” she said. “We know there are needs here. I’m from Danbury, Crystal is from Danbury so this is our home. And we want to see parents empowered.

She said she would like to expand to Bridgeport, Norwalk or even Port Chester, NY

Working with Perkins at the center will be a case manager and volunteer manager. Neal will split his time between Danbury and Stamford, where over 300 parents are served each year. Volunteers lead the classes.

The organization leases property from Sacred Heart Church and has access to two buildings with offices, conference and board rooms and the church cafe. The center operates through donors, grants and fundraising.

Classes are offered in English and Spanish, but the center hopes to add Portuguese classes to Danbury. The organization is non-secular, despite its name.

Parents are usually referred to the center through the court system, the Department for Children and Families or other agencies and may have gotten into trouble for child abuse or neglect, Neal said. Some parents may struggle with addiction. While some parents are required to attend parenting classes, others join voluntarily.

“There isn’t a parent who couldn’t use the extra support and support from the community,” Perkins said.

In Stamford, the center offers 28 general parenting classes, in addition to the “Women’s Circle of Support” and “Dads are the Difference,” which were launched after a $3.3 million federal grant last year for improve fatherhood programs.

The center moved classes to Zoom during COVID-19 and served about as many people in 2020 as it did in 2019 and 2021, Neal said.

Danbury’s general parenting and one of the fatherhood programs will launch on March 1, with full programming for dads ideally rolling out towards the end of the year. The Women’s Circle program will begin in 2023, Perkins said. The first classes will be from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, but the center is considering a daytime class, she said.

Case management is available to direct parents to employment, housing and food resources, but the focus is on parenting “because if we educate the parent, we will have a greater impact on the kid,” Neal said.

The center offers incentives, such as a $50 gift for their child if they complete 10 classes or a $100 gift if they complete 20 classes. Staff and volunteers show love and respect for parents, Neal said.

“Because we are non-clinical people (we) have a way of opening up, so we can really get to the root or the core of the problem and build a plan alongside them so that their family can be strengthened, she said. said.

“Organization of Hope”

Neal joined the center in June 2019 when his father was suffering from a chronic illness. He grew up in the “ghetto”, served in the military and became an executive at IBM and a professor at Westchester Community College, she said.

“As he walked away, I knew it was a way of honoring his legacy, supporting parents who may not have had the support,” said Neal, whose daughter is 24.

Perkins, who has about 14 years of experience working with underserved children, was hired last year. She has daughters aged 16 months and 2 years, but has also been an adoptive parent for three children. She decided to become a foster parent after volunteering at a camp for teenage mothers where she met a nine-month-old baby.

“Through this experience, I learned that children love unconditionally,” she said. “It just opened my eyes to the needs of children and my ability to love them like we all need.”

Families’ issues with mental health, addictions and chronic absenteeism have been “amplified” due to COVID, Neal said. But the center aims to work with parents to “build a better future”, she said.

“We are an organization of hope,” Neal said.

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