2019-01-17 / Front Page

Parenting Program Expanded

By Brooke Constance White

Jessica Long and Ariana enjoy the parenting program offered through EBCAP. (Photo by Brooke Constance White) Jessica Long and Ariana enjoy the parenting program offered through EBCAP. (Photo by Brooke Constance White) There’s no handbook for how to raise a child. Ask anyone who’s a parent and they’ll likely tell you that it’s not an easy job.

Thankfully, Newport County has a great resource for parents of children from birth to age 3: Baby Steps, a nine-month parent/ caregiver program that helps them gain confidence in their parenting skills and understand how their child learns, communicates and develops.

The free program, which has been in existence for 10 years and merged with East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP) three years ago, takes place on the first Saturday morning each month from September to May at the Florence Gray Center. The program has been so successful that a second five-month session has been added on Thursday nights from 5:30 to 7 p.m., which begins Jan. 24, at EBCAP Headstart.

The Baby Step program is adding an evening session beginning Thursday, Jan. 24 at the EBCAP Headstart facility. Aaron and Penelope recently enjoyed the activites. (Photos by Brooke Constance White) The Baby Step program is adding an evening session beginning Thursday, Jan. 24 at the EBCAP Headstart facility. Aaron and Penelope recently enjoyed the activites. (Photos by Brooke Constance White) “We’ve learned that smaller [groups] are better and increases our retention rate,” said Amintha Cinotti, board chair of Baby Steps.

She added that there were also families who couldn’t make it to the Saturday sessions, which are held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., but expressed interest in an evening program. “We didn’t want to just pack more families into our Saturday program,” she said. “We’ve learned that quality is better than quantity. We want to build relationships and watch these families grow.”

Saturday morning sessions include breakfast, a facilitated and interactive education portion, an arts and crafts segment and a reading and music portion, while the Thursday night program will include a light dinner and an education piece with a longer discussion time. Families will then receive a craft to do at home with their children. Both sessions provide childcare and engaging activities for older siblings. Free books and diapers will be available at the Saturday and Thursday sessions.

The educational segment, which is taught by a professional in the field, such as an early childhood educator or a speech pathologist, explores skills that parents should develop and challenges they face related to communication, learning styles, positive parenting and social/emotional development.

Donna Kelly, a second-grade teacher at Pell Elementary School, who was the guest speaker at the Jan. 5 meeting, focused her interactive discussion on how children learn.

“My goal today is to emphasize the fact that parents are children’s first teachers,” she said. “And then once they’re in school, I want to encourage parents/caregivers to remain very involved in their child’s education [from] pre-K through grade 12.”

Cinotti said the goal of the program is for parents to gain confidence in their abilities as a parent and to have more tools when it comes to dealing with difficult situations.

“We do some pre- and postsurvey work and we’ve heard that parents feel much more confident to face challenges that may arise. It’s pretty amazing to see some parents come in at the beginning and they’re a little nervous but are much more relaxed at the end,” Cinotti said. “Baby Steps is about parents being with their children and learning about their development and how to play and have fun together.”

Cinotti said the program also helps parents figure out next steps, such as preschool, daycare and beyond.

Jennifer Gee, Baby Steps program coordinator for EBCAP, said she wants parents to come away from the program better able to understand their child’s development and behavior.

“Hopefully, they are leaving us with the tools and resources they need to be a better parent,” she said. “We’re really hoping that we’ll have laid a foundation for them so that they can go out and take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way.”

Gee, Cinotti and a group of volunteers have dedicated their Saturday mornings to the program. As a result, many families feel comfortable sharing their struggles and achievements as parents and building relationships with the program facilitators.

Gee said she’ll sometimes get a text message from a parent who’s celebrating because their child is finally potty-trained, had a successful birthday party or because they felt like they handled a tough situation well, thanks to the parenting tools and confidence Baby Steps has given them.

“Our families recognize that we’re very committed to Baby Steps and that we’re very invested in them and their children,” Gee said. “I think they feel like we’re partners with them, and they want to celebrate those successes with us.”

In talking with many of the families that attend, it’s clear that Baby Steps is a valued program in Newport County. Some families come back year after year with their young children.

Shamar Giddings Julius attends with her 3-year-old daughter, Danica, and said they’ve both benefited immensely from the social interaction. Danica used to say “no” to her over and over, Julius said, but she’s learned how to help calm her down in those moments and listen to her.

“I’ve been incorporating a lot of the skills I’ve learned here at home or wherever I am with Danica,” she said. “I’ve noticed a big difference in our relationship.”

For the past seven years, Josh Schuy and Katelynn Chapman have been bringing their children to Baby Steps. Their youngest child, Penelope, 2, didn’t like to talk to people before coming to the program.

“She had to wear a helmet when she was really little so she didn’t interact with other people very much, but now she loves talking and being around other people that started here at Baby Steps,” Chapman said. “We’ve also learned how to communicate with our children better instead of just telling them ‘no’ all the time, and have learned new ways of handling potentially hard situations, such as long car rides and shopping with our kids.”

As the mother of a 9-year-old, Gee knows that being a parent can be isolating at times. Having a group of people who are in the same stage of life can be incredibly encouraging, she said.

“I think that Baby Steps is one important piece of the larger community effort to really support parents of young children and help all the children in Newport County go on and be successful,” she said. “We’re putting our young children first and working to build strong families and strong children.”

For more information and to sign up for the Thursday night program, which will be taking place at the EBCAP Headstart facility, contact Gee at 401-533-1160 or jgee@ebcap.org.

Return to top