June 27, 2019 --
For Rose Haugrud and nine-year-old son Ronin Rei, involvement in the Strengthening Families Program was a positive experience from the first day to the last.
"It was awesome," Haugrud said. "We got a chance to connect with other families and make new friends and learn new ways to parent and really support each other."
The program, in which School District No. 57 was a partner, has reached the end of a five-year run in Prince George. It was funded for those five years by Public Safety Canada and included the City of Prince George, RCMP, Prince George Native Friendship Centre and the University of Northern British Columbia as partners.
Haugrud and Rei – a Quinson Elementary School student who will enter Grade 4 in September – were part of the second and final Strengthening Families session of the 2018-19 school year. Each of the two sessions ran for 15 weeks and saw children (ages six to 11) and their families meet once per week from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the school of the child.
Each 15-week time period saw three schools involved. SFP facilitators would, for example, visit Quinson on one day and two other schools on the other two days. In conjunction, the Prince George Native Friendship Centre hosted one gathering per week.
The goal of the program was to build stronger bonds inside families and between families.
"We had groups every week," Haugrud said. "The parents had separate groups where we talked and had discussions and the kids did activities every week."
Sessions followed defined curriculums, with topics such as the benefits of holding family meetings, problem solving between children and parents, the dangers of drugs and alcohol and dealing with peer pressure. Fun activities for the children included crafts and games. Each afternoon ended with a family activity and dinner.
Rei enjoyed himself at the Strengthening Families gatherings and reaped the benefits of involvement.
"I think it helped him gain a lot of strength and make friends a lot easier than he normally does," Haugrud said.
To help families attend regularly, free transportation to and from the site of the program was available and there were babysitters present for those parents with younger children. The financial support of Public Safety Canada "cut through all barriers," said School District No. 57's Cheryl Bateman, the program coordinator.
"We had taxis that could pick them up and bring them, we had the snacks after school and the food for supper – they appreciated the supper (because) they didn't have to cook," Bateman added. "And they usually took home food. We'd try and make it so they could. Some of the families that were kind of iffy at first, if they came a couple times they bought right into the program.
"I've done parenting programs before and this program was incredible because of the parent and the kid component. Some don't focus on both, and the family unit."
Bateman said families from all socio-economic backgrounds participated. Some parents heard about the Strengthening Families Program through word of mouth or professional circles and approached facilitators about joining.
Bateman saw through her own eyes the effectiveness of the program and the positive impact it made on parents and youth.
"Dinner would come at about 4:30 and then sometimes families would just sit there and talk," she said. "It was really neat at one of the schools. We had some families going swimming afterwards. They'd get together and take the kids swimming. The kids were loving it and making new friends."
Bateman was also told of children who normally had problems in the school setting, showing up with positive attitudes and smiles on their faces.
"Staff at schools have told us they see such good results from it," she said.
The final get-together for the winter-to-spring session of the Strengthening Families Program happened last week at the PG Dome (formerly the Roll-A-Dome). Kids, parents and facilitators enjoyed themselves at a pizza and roller skating party where they also had the chance to say their farewells or make arrangements for future visits on their own time.
Bateman said many of the families are sad to see the program come to an end.
She shares in that feeling.
"It's so hard," she said. "(Families) are like, 'We can't believe it's over,' because they still connect. Even at the roller rink, there were families from three years ago that came."
PHOTOS, TOP TO BOTTOM: Kris Holland, a School District No. 57 Youth Care Worker, gets ready to serve up a mountain of pizza at the Strengthening Families Program wrap-up party at the PG Dome.
Marci Ebach Mueller, right, sits with two of her children at the Strengthening Families roller skating and pizza party.
Rose Haugrud shares a moment with son Ronin Rei before he heads out onto the floor at the PG Dome.