New Parent Services celebrates 25 years

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea

The idea was simple: New parents do not always have a local family support network.

That one insight, sparked from a HUGS conference (Hugs to Youth: Hope and Understanding Giving Strength to our Youth) in 1987 and initially cultivated by Carolyn Bondurant, Dana Lance, Billie Stevens, JoAnn Wittenberg, and Dr. Mike Pendleton, is still at the heart of New Parent Services’ mission to support families.

And they’ve been doing so for the past 25 years.

Parenting Education Coordinator Nancy Johanson Paul, who has been with New Parent Services all 25 of its years, believes the program has been successful because of the needs it meets. “Any parent will say having other parents to talk to is the most important thing,” she said. “It’s that support from other parents, learning new ideas.

Open House Sept. 4

Join New Parent Services in celebrating the past 25 years of making Hood River County a better place to raise a family with an open house on Sept. 4, beginning at 7 p.m. at Hood River Valley Christian Church, 975 Indian Creek Rd. Current and former staff, volunteers, board members, community partners, parents and supporters of New Parent Services will enjoy viewing photos, sharing memories, reconnecting with colleagues and friends and celebrating accomplishments.

“We invite the public to attend this event to show support of an organization and people who have made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of children and parents,” said director Nancy Johansen Paul.

“All parents want the best for their child,” she added.

The program has evolved over time, but its goal has not. Today, New Parent Services, under the umbrella of The Next Door, Inc., runs playgroups for children up to age 5, coordinates Welcome Baby visits with expecting parents, and sends trained staff for home visits with parents who need extra support from prenatal to age 3.

It also offers parenting classes, sponsors the annual Columbia Gorge Parenting Education Awareness photo contest (winning photos are now on display in the Hood River Library, across from the children’s section), and publishes the Parenting in the Gorge Guide, a helpful collection of playgroups, story times, parenting resources, classes and services — in English and Spanish — offered in Hood River and Wasco counties. (The latest edition will be out soon and distributed to schools, the Health Department and doctors’ offices, and libraries.)

Compare that to the program’s infancy, when services centered on family social events and home visits. It was run by volunteers, generally mothers who wanted both community involvement and to share their parenting knowledge with others.

Paul was New Parent Service’s first paid staff member, hired in the fall of 1989. She worked as volunteer coordinator, a position paid for by funds provided by a Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon grant. Located at the OSU Extension Office in Hood River, and under the direction of OSU Extension Agent Billie Stevens, Paul began to “recruit volunteers to visit new babies and their parents in their homes to offer support, parenting information, and refer the families to local resources,” Paul wrote in a history of the program. She arranged “training for volunteers, planned family social events, and recruited leaders for playgroups.” She also ran a mothers’ group.

In 1990, the program came to Cascade Locks, when Tami Russell volunteered to lead a playgroup in in the City Hall. She still leads the playgroup today, and has been a Family Home Visitor since 2000.

“That’s been a big support to the community of Cascade Locks,” said Paul.

New Parent Services became a part of the non-profit The Next Door, Inc., in 1991, and officially dissolved its 501(3) status in September 2003. Home visitations are no longer conducted by volunteers, but by paid, trained staff.

In supporting parents through the early years of their child’s life, all children grow up to be healthier, more secure and happier with their family and community, Paul said. In this way, the program proactively addresses child abuse and neglect.

She tells one such success story of a mother, herself abused as a child, who wanted to break the cycle. With help from New Parent Services, she had home visits for three years, and took parenting classes, both with her husband and with her children.

“She’s doing a great job,” Paul said. “The most important thing to her is being a mom. She’s learned new ideas, and is glad she started attending classes when her son was born.”

No matter what a parent’s situation, Paul encourages everyone to attend parenting classes. “Parents who don’t come to classes don’t know what they don’t know,” she said, adding that there’s so much information about parenting techniques that weren’t available to previous generations.

Paul points to the Incredible Years series, classes New Parent Services urges all parents to take before their child enters kindergarten. The program instructs parents on how to teach social skills, coach emotions, and help their children follow instructions and listen through effective praise.

“The social and emotional are more of a challenge to kindergarteners than the academics,” Paul said.

New Parent Services offers its programs to everyone, with extra support for those who need it, such as low income families, single or teenage parents. First-time parents are a priority, but, as Paul pointed out, subsequent babies can be just as challenging.

In all, over 150 people have served as a board member, volunteer or staff member at New Parent Services since its inception, and Paul is satisfied with where the program has been and where it’s going.

“If we maintain what we have, that will be the best,” she said.

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