It’s a rare but remarkable experience when you speak with someone for the first time, and it feels like they’ve known you forever. That is the experience of nearly everyone who walks into the Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center (GTAFRC). No matter who you encounter, there is a sense of understanding and connection. In an instant, you are not alone. You are surrounded by people who see you for who you are and respect every part of the journey that got you here.
Michelle Lennon and Karen Welford have been cultivating this experience in their communities for a very long time. The two met nearly a decade ago at the Lakes Region Family Resource Center when Karen was the Director, and Michelle was working as a Home Visitor and Parent Aide. In 2014, Michelle, also a Pastor of a local church, was seeing an increase in families that were being impacted by problematic substance use and issues of poverty.
Below, Michelle explains that family services and support were geographically out of reach for her region and how one cup of coffee led to closing the gap.
That cup of coffee initiated many more in-depth conversations with families and community members who shared their stories, challenges, and aspirations for themselves and the place they call home. This led to what is now a 3500 square foot family resource center providing recovery, healthcare, employment, housing, family, and early childhood supports for the towns of Andover, Franklin, Northfield, Sanbornton, and Tilton.
Engaging families and building them up is what the Center is all about. Their mentorship model focuses on identifying and developing individual strengths and providing the necessary supports to navigate challenges, build resiliency, and emerge as leaders in the community and their own lives. One of the ways this is being done is through Parent Cafes.
“It’s a time where parents and caregivers can get an hour or so to themselves – which they never get!” says Yolanda DaRocha, Parent Leader.
“It’s a no-judgment zone where we celebrate the ups and downs of parenting and caregiving. We have a lot of laughs. We see that we are not alone, and we leave each café knowing we can rise to meet the challenges of each day because we are building strong families and are supported by each other”, continued DaRocha.
In the video below, the team describes how Parent Cafes empower family members to become leaders and what types of supports are provided to ensure their success.
PIC and NHFV met Tilton’s Parent Leaders last year and together with the family resource center, supported their leadership development through the Preschool Development Grant.
“We have been supporting family members in partnering with professionals to strengthen the services and supports our state provides for nearly forty-five years. The Preschool Development Grant (PDG) is heavily focused on engaging families to inform and strengthen our early childhood care and education system. PDG gave us the opportunity to bring these two talented leaders on to our state-level family leadership group. It was a win-win. Their contributions were invaluable to our work in seeking family feedback, and they gained systems-level knowledge and additional leadership training”, said Michelle Lewis, Executive Director of the Parent Information Center.
Both Parent Leaders have leveraged their experience to pursue careers in family support. One has recently taken a position with NAMI NH as a Peer Support Recovery Coach, and Yolanda recently passed the exam to become a Certified Recovery Support Worker and was hired by the GTAFRC as a Recovery Coach.
“The experience has been truly life changing”, said Yolanda.
To learn more about the Greater Tilton Area Family Resource Center, visit their website at www.GTAFRC.com.