Strengthening Families builds stronger families

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Laura Stover, facilitator, acts out a peer pressure scenario with Charles Evans, 10, during a Strengthening Families session at St. Olaf Lutheran Church on Sunday.

“We are strong young people with a great future. We are making good decisions so we can reach our goals.”

That is the Youth Creed recited by a group of fifth and sixth graders led by Laura Stover, a facilitator for the PROSPER Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14. The kids read the creed during their Strengthening Families meetings each week.

Strengthening Families is an evidence-based prevention program from PROSPER and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Since Strengthening Families was introduced in Fort Dodge 18 years ago, more than 1,100 families have participated in the program, according to Linda Cline, program coordinator with Webster County Extension. Up until this year, the program focused on Fort Dodge students in sixth grade and their parents or caretakers. This year, the program was extended to include fifth graders as well.

Parents and kids spending time together is the best part of Strengthening Families, Stover said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Jobina Kirby and her daughter, Aianna Kirby, 11, lean on each other for support during an activity at Strengthening Familes at St. Olaf Lutheran Church on Sunday.

“In today’s very busy world, we barely spend five minutes in conversation with each other on any one given day,” she said. “And how can we possibly know what our parents think is important for us to learn and what our goals are if we don’t spend deliberate time just sharing what’s going on in our life? And I think this program offers some opportunity for that every single week.”

Each session of Strengthening Families meets once a week for seven weeks and families do receive a small amount of money to attend. The sessions are often held at local churches. This fall, the sessions were held at First Presbyterian Church and St. Olaf Lutheran Church.

Each week of the session focuses on a different topic or theme, like how to handle peer pressure or how to choose good friends or following rules and understanding family values. Families in the program must attend at least five of the weeks to “graduate” the program.

Stover has been a facilitator with the program since it started in the city, first for the sessions at First Presbyterian and now for the sessions at St. Olaf.

“The main reason I do it is anytime you can spend time with young people and listen to what’s going on in their life and offer some suggestions and just help them really to feel positive about themselves, it is time well spent,” Stover said. “There’s just so many choices out there for them, so many things that they are bombarded with every single day – do I let somebody cheat off a test? Do I call somebody a name and participate in bullying? Do I want to sample beer or smoke a joint because my friend is telling me it will be a cool thing to do? Well there just needs to be voices in their life that are saying those are not cool choices to make and those have a lot of consequences.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Families work together during an activity at Strengthening Families on Sunday at St. Olaf Lutheran Church.

Stover has seen firsthand the difference this program makes.

“I just see that in my own children who went through it that it did make a difference, it really empowered them to say no and have a reason why they were saying no to being talked into doing something that wasn’t going to be good for them,” she said.

Each week of the program, the parents and kids start the first hour separated — the youth in one room working with two facilitators on that day’s lessons and activities, and the parents in another room with another facilitator viewing videos with their lessons. After a short snack break, the parents and kids come together for the final hour to bring their lessons together and learn skills to improve their communication and understanding of each other, strengthening their family unit.

“It’s like you’ve got a toolbox of new techniques you can use to problem-solve and work together to have less stress in your life and get along better,” Stover said.

That’s exactly what Chris Novencido, a parent who attends the current session on Sundays at St. Olaf, said.

“This gives us a way to approach different situations,” he said. “It just gives you a lot of tools to use when a certain situation comes up.”

Novencido, who is attending this session with his 12-year-old daughter, Sydney, who is a sixth grader, is no stranger to the Strengthening Families program – he and his wife went through the program with their two older children and plan to go through again with Sydney’s younger sister.

“I think it helps out a lot,” he said. “This is something I wish other people knew about it, because it seems like a lot of people don’t know about it. I think it would help a lot of parents if they knew about it.”

The next Strengthening Families Program session will begin in March 2020. Cline said the schools will send information out when it gets nearer.

The program is looking for facilitators for future sessions, Cline added. Facilitators do get paid for their work. Those interested can call Cline at the Webster County Extension office at 515-576-2119.


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