BUCKHANNON – Once upon a time, the executive director of the Upshur County Family Resource Network, Lori Ulderich Harvey, noticed a hole the community fabric of Upshur County.
Although it’s not the case now, two years ago, Harvey realized there wasn’t a moms’ or parents’ group in Buckhannon or any outlying area of the county.
So, Harvey teamed up with two colleagues, Heather Lane and Jodi McQuillan, community coordinator with West Virginia Healthy Start/HAPI project, and founded Upshur County Family Resource Network monthly family socials.
On Monday, the FRN celebrated two years of the hosting family socials with a lunch party featuring a fairytale princess at the Stockert Youth & Community Center. Little Glass Slipper Princess Parties, based in Weston, sent Cinderella free of charge to meet and greet attending children and their families.
And the ones who couldn’t make it?
Cinderella sent them video messages.
Harvey said one of her tasks as the director of FRN is to identify gaps in resources in the area, and this was a crucial one.
“One of the things I am charged with is to identify gaps of service in the community – small or large – and sometimes, gaps that seem small really aren’t that small to the people involved,” she said. “The FRN decided to do the monthly family socials because we realized there was no free daytime activity that a family could bring their pre-K and younger child or children to, and be able to do anything, other than something like the library’s read aloud, which is wonderful, but it only lasts about a half an hour.”
Harvey, McQuillan and Lane pooled their resources from the programs Partners in Prevention, HAPI and WVDHHR’s WV Right from the Start to come up with funding to pay for the gatherings.
Typically, the socials include a healthy meal, discussion on a parenting topic – such as how to increase growth in the area of fine motor skills – and a sensory activity that caretakers and children can participate in and replicate at home.
As far as age goes, the family socials are open to anyone who is pregnant up to families who have children in pre-K, Harvey said.
“Another part of this is that through the socials, we’re connecting the families to services in the area they might need,” Harvey explained.
Unlike groups for just moms or primary caregivers – which usually provide some type of daycare so adults can interact with one another – the FRN’s family socials give the adults a chance to interact with other adults – but they also provide the opportunity for family members to bond with one another in a healthy environment.
Harvey said the word “family” in “family social” denotes the idea that families now come in all forms.
“It’s not just the mom anymore. It’s the moms, the dads, the grandparents, the foster families,” Harvey said. “And when I think of social, I think of a gathering of people in the community, like an ice cream social.”
When the program began, only about two or three families participated, Harvey said. However, during summer months, that number has climbed up to about 14, she said. The group is diverse and encompasses families from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities.
“The project has worked, and we’ve increased families,” she said.
Find Upshur FRN on Facebook and click on the ‘Events’ tab for information on when and where the next family social will take place.