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Homer nonprofit lends support for parents, tots

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010

HOMER (AP) -- Ask Monica Romano Turner and Andrea Macauly how Homer Children's Services Birth 2 Three benefited their families and the two women have ready answers.

Seven years ago, when Romano Turner moved to Homer with a four-month-old son and no family support group in the area, she felt alone. That was until she discovered Homer Children's Services Birth 2 Three, a nonprofit, grant-funded organization with a mission of offering support, education and family-strengthening activities for parents and youngsters from birth to 3 years of age.

"It a very loving, welcoming, positive, encouraging environment," said Romano Turner.

After a home visit by Karen Shemet, the program's infant learning educator, Romano Turner gained a new perspective on her beginning months as a parent.

"She really validated the intensity of parenting. It was comforting to hear, 'This is an overwhelming, exhausting job you're doing.' They really build parents up and encourage them," said Romano Turner.

Playgroups allowed Romano Turner to meet other parents and discuss their experiences. Birth 2 Three also offered a resource lending library, complete with reading materials and age-appropriate activities for her family.

"It's a place where you can find support for parents going through the exact same things, children of the same age, and connect and make friends with people," said Romano Turner.

Her four-month-old is now 8 and she has a 6-year-old, but her youngest, a 1-year-old, means Romano Turner can continue to benefit from the program.

Macauly wasn't a new mother when she came first into contact with Birth 2 Three seven years ago. The ages of her six children are now 23, 20, 19, 15, 7 and 3.

"Our 7- and 3-year-old are adopted. When the 7-year-old was a baby, we took him there to have him tested. And then, when we got the 3-year-old, he was two days old and in state custody and they wanted us to bring him there," said Macauly.

After observing Macauly's youngest children, Birth 2 Three's occupational therapist and speech therapist provided Macauly with activities and skills to help her children. One new skill was learning sign language. She also learned how to prepare her youngest child for school.

"He needed more structured activities, at least one a day from now until he goes to school to help him get comfortable with a structured environment," she said

With her children having now outgrown Birth 2 Three, Macauly is "leaving the program knowing I have lifelong friends and that's a huge benefit."

Jillian Lush was recently hired as Birth 2 Three's executive director. She has a master's degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Her experience on the southern peninsula includes working with The Center and Haven House.

"Because families are their children's first teacher and the most consistent adults in their lives, Birth 2 Three is committed to providing services in the context and settings of those relationships and helping parents and guardians develop skills that will enable them to best assist their children," Lush wrote in the press release announcing her hiring.

The program is funded with several grants, including ones from the state of Alaska and United Way. Its service area stretches from Clam Gulch to the north, to the head of Kachemak Bay to the east and communities on the south side of the bay. Home evaluations are the preferred mode of service delivery, but the office space at Ben Walters Lane, Suite 4, includes the resource lending library and an area for playgroups to meet. Insurance is billed for therapists' services. Fees for other services are set on a sliding scale or free.

"No one is turned away, but we find most people want to contribute," said Shemet, who has been an education and development specialist with the organization for 10 years. She became acquainted with Birth 2 Three when she and her daughter attended a playgroup.

A full nine-member board stays closely involved with Birth 2 Three's activities, said Maureen Moore, board president.

"The benefit is just so obvious," Moore said of the program. "It gets kids off to a healthy start. ... It helps parents be the best they can be."

Offering a broad, community-wide perspective of Birth 2 Three's benefits, board member Barry Levit said, "If you want a garden to blossom, you have to plant healthy seeds."



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