Tucked in the Old North End of Burlington is an amazing playspace and resource for families and children.
It’s actually been there for 25 years and it’s called the Family Room. The Family Room is part of the VNA (Visiting Nurses Association) Family and Children’s Services division. The Family Room is an indoor playspace and it offers ANY parent and their child or children a place to connect to other parents, to connect to necessary services, to gain skills and overall it has been know to lift you out of the feelings of isolation that parenting can bring on. Because it is in the heart of the Old North End, it also offers you and your child a place with more diversity than I personally have seen in any other place in Vermont. Doesn’t it sound amazing? You’re right, it is, but I have some bad news:
The services have been cut due to lack of funding and many families that have previously been served by The Family Room are in danger of having nowhere to turn.
Let me give you a little history: The Family Room has been in operation for 25 years and all of the services are free to participants.
Their funding has comes from state grants and contracts, VNA charitable care contributions, a federal fatherhood grant and private foundation grants, and support from individual donors and community organizations. According to a Burlington Free Press article, in 1995 the State of Vermont budgeted $38,000 per year to the Family Room and that dollar amount has not changed. In 2006, the Visiting Nurses Association Family Room received a large five-year $465,000 federal demonstration grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to support families, with a focus on fathers becoming better parents, partners and providers, the VNA said. This allowed for extended parenting support programs. Because of the success with their programming they were confidant that they would receive the grant, but on October 1st, 2015 the Family Room learned that they did not. Overall, the Family Room lost around $200,000 from it’s budget, which caused the termination of 3 full-time employees and a reduction in services.
On a Thursday in November, I visited the Family Room to speak with a few parents who have utilized services at the Family Room and feel that this loss is devastating. They spoke at length about the impact of these losses on the community and how they believe that their own success in parenting young children is owed, in part to the Family Room. One woman described feeling at the end of her rope with her 6 month old baby-She was staying home and was feeling isolated. When her baby would by fussy she would feel alone and like there might be something wrong with her when when she became frustrated with parenting. She heard about the Family Room and felt like the social workers there helped her relieve the pressure valve of parenting. She felt easily accepted, there was plenty of room for her baby to crawl around and the opportunity for both mama and baby to gain much needed skills.
The Diversity at the Family Room is wonderful. Many families from the Refugee population come to the Family Room. AALV, an organization that helps New Americans integrate into Vermont communities is right upstairs, so some families are able to drop off children in the Family Room while they take language lessons upstairs. The day that I was there there was a big sign out front with a multitude of choices for participants. The staff described that much of their food is donated by local grocery stores and there was a large group of parents and children making apple crisp in the kitchen. In the big playroom, parents and children were playing together, singing songs and parents were connecting with one another in a supportive way. The social work staff was kind and gracious and knew the names of all of the people there. In a room off to the side, a few women were using the many sewing machines there to make whatever they wanted-clothes, drapes, you name it. It’s up to them and the staff is available to assist if needed. Did I mention that all of these services are free of charge AND they are drop-in, so families don’t have to make any commitments to go every week. And yet, the place was packed.
One woman I spoke with talked about being nervous at first and rejecting the idea of going to the Family Room because she knew that social workers worked there and she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone all up in her business, but she finally agreed to try it and once she did she was hooked. She felt like the staff were excellent at modeling, not preaching. She never felt that her parenting was being undermined. And they have an amazing ability at engaging father’s too. That’s right, they have drop-in groups geared specifically toward fathers! So if you need some alone time, may I suggested sending Dad out with the kids for a Tuesday night FACT (Father’s and Children Together) drop-in group. Everyone is guaranteed to have a great time!
I mean, this is an active indoor FREE playspace for your little kids that can be used all year long. Too cold outside. Head to the Family Room. Rainy day? Family Room.
It is ludicrous that we would allow such a valuable resource to fade away without a fight. I’ll post a sample schedule below, don’t worry!
Here’s what you need to know: There is a huge parent and community energy being displayed to help Save the Family Room. The receivers of these services are turning into the givers. Parents meet weekly to discuss their hopes and wishes for the program and many are working around the clock to reach out to the VNA Executive Boards and State Legislators. You can be a part of this movement! Here are some ways to contact them:
By email: [email protected]
Via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1648120392137181/
Or at the very least, sign this petition: VNA Family Room Petition
Details about VNA Family Room Groups and their schedule by heading over to this link-VNA Family Room and Schedule
Although, the parents would love volunteers and community participation in this movement, that isn’t always possible so here is another way you can help.
How Can You Give?
- Visit www.vnacares.org/donate to make a donation.
- In the drop-down menu under “I’d Like My Gift to Support a VNA Program,” please choose “Family Room.”
- Then go out and spread the word. Use the hashtag #GivingTuesday to talk about why you support this cause and encourage friends and family to support it, too.