Parenting can be difficult even under the best circumstances. When other factors, such as economic problems, enter the mix, having a support system and learning new life skills can dramatically turn a family’s life around. That is what the Parent Aide Program, offered by the Suncoast Center, aims to do. Based on the National Exchange Club Foundation’s Parent Aide model, this preventative service provides counseling and mentoring in the areas of parent education, emotional support, home management, support groups and other resources.
“Sometimes a combination of services is needed,” says Kerri Pedersen, program manager of the Parent Aide Program for the past six years. “Parents may need a person to talk to or learn new life skills such as time management, budgeting and making better choices at the grocery store.”
Parents may enter the program through self-referral. Other referrals come from schools, friends and neighbors. Referrals may originate from child protective service divisions that deem the problems not significant enough to remove a child from the home but feel help and support are needed. A case manager then meets with the family, and if the criteria to enter the program are met, the family is matched with a volunteer to meet the specific needs of the parent and their family.
“There is often a lot of economic stress within families,” says Pedersen. “That has to be tackled first. How to keep the electricity turned on and how to keep food on the table is often the first step.”
A big component of the program is the free events and activities, such as family picnics, game nights, art projects and holiday celebrations, held at different locations throughout Pinellas County. These activities allow families to connect with each other and meet other families in the program to share experiences and develop friendships.
Just as the Suncoast Center’s programs support the community, the community gives back to the organization via events and donations. Partial proceeds from local events, such as RibFest, go to support Parent Aide. The Exchange Club of St. Petersburg recently sponsored the 8th Annual Stop Child Abuse Blue Ribbon Race at Walsingham Park during Child Abuse Prevention Month in April to benefit the Parent Aide program.
Currently, there are over 30 Parent Aide volunteers working in Pinellas County, ranging in age from 21 to the mid-80s. They come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, bringing different skill sets to the program. A person must be a minimum of 21 years of age to volunteer and pass a background screening. They must be willing to commit to one to two hours each week for a period of one year. Volunteers attend monthly inservice sessions for training purposes and as a way to network with other volunteers. According to Pedersen, volunteers are always needed. Parents, families and volunteers alike benefit from the program and come away from the experience with a new perspective.
“Volunteers and the families they work with often build lifelong friendships,” said Pedersen.
To learn more about volunteering for the Parent Aide Program, contact Colleen Walker at 727-543-0677. Parents interested in signing up for the program can call the Suncoast Center at 727-388-1220.