Families First for Mississippi: programs to support the whole family
We stretch before we run, follow a recipe when we cook, and study a map or guidebook before we travel to a new destination. But when it comes to parenting and family life, we rarely follow any instructions at all, preferring to navigate the bumps as they come, even though the health and success of our families far outweigh the importance of a personal-best mile, perfect soufflé, or off-the-beaten-path museum.
Most of us don’t even realize there is family and parenting help available. Families First for Mississippi teaches an assortment of free classes about families and parenting with an innovative “whole family” approach that gets all family members involved.
“Our main goal for Families First for Mississippi is to impact the entire family by connecting the dots between all of the Mississippi family services,” explains Nancy New, Executive Director of MCEC.
While many counties contain independent full service Families First for MS centers, the organization works with other major agencies such as Department of Human Services, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Mississippi National Guard’s Yellow Ribbon Program and the YMCA, among others.
These collaborations ensure that families, children, and individuals receive the attention and opportunity to grow that every person deserves. Working with other esteemed social service organizations also broadens awareness of domestic trends and increases the knowledge base for and about members of the community.
This ability to reach every Mississippian allowed the organization to create the groundbreaking Gen+ program, which goes beyond the nuclear family and taps the wisdom and care of noncustodial parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Imagine the sense of inclusion a struggling child feels when he or she is embraced by extended family. The positive outcomes can be amazing!
“In partnership with Families First for Mississippi,” says John Davis, Executive Director of MS Department of Human Services, “county offices throughout Mississippi are better equipped to support the “whole family” through parenting education, parenting skills training, youth development programs, Healthy Teens for A Better Mississippi as well as many other specific human services needs within the family being served.”
The nonprofit organization understands that the questions and challenges of family life begin the moment our children arrive in our arms. For over two decades, its experts have created and implemented programs for early childhood, school readiness, teaching and reinforcing reading and math literacy. They are driven by the belief that knowledge produces a more powerful individual.
Families First for MS grows alongside community members by offering free classes for newly engaged couples, married couples, and new parents, among many others. The Active Parenting and Confident Parenting programs provide critical communication techniques and skills—and never have these skills been more important than in this era of distraction and social isolation. Learning to talk with our kids and our parenting partners can solve many potential problems before they even start.
“My experience as a Families First trainer has been great, exults Frank Wynn, a Fatherhood Trainer. The parents I work with have dispelled the myth that they don’t want to be good parents. From mothers that are intrigued by a man’s point of view on parenting or fathers that need a different outlook on being a father. They all genuinely want to be better parents but just need a little help.”
There is no reason to wait for a crisis to learn how to best nurture our kids or our relationships. The Healthy Marriage, Family Unit, and Healthy Relationships class sheds light on some of the unanticipated elements of sharing one’s life with others. Just hearing stories from people we aren’t related to, learning that we are not alone in managing our teenager, or learning to address conflicts in a constructive way is very empowering.
Families First for MS is all about this empowerment, whether through working with new fathers through the Fatherhood Initiative or creating a comprehensive program for noncustodial fathers. The latter, created in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Human Services, is specifically designed to transform the noncustodial father from an absentee parent to a contributing member of his child’s life. The program also achieves a pragmatic goal by encouraging responsibility and child support, one of many critical challenges faced by single-parented children today.
Every person needs positive attention and education throughout his or her life. Through Families First, middle schoolers can take classes that explore healthy choices, personal character, conflict resolution, communication skills, and positive environments. These life skills, fundamental to a healthy adulthood, are most often formed or hindered during preadolescence.
Teenagers also receive plenty of rightful attention. Families First for MS is supporting the governor’s initiative to reduce Mississippi’s high school dropout rate by creating teen-targeted healthy change and healthy choices programming. These programs are bolstered by classes that develop communication and conflict-resolution skills.
“We want to equip our youth with the tools they need to make positive choices so they can live long, healthy lives,” said First Lady Deborah Bryant. “We need more advocates, like Families First for Mississippi, supporting our initiative to help teens stay in school and lead successful careers. This partnership is key to building a better future for the next generation of state leaders.”
Experts are taking these programs to students in public and private secondary schools and onto our university and college campuses. This proactive practice fosters a positive environment and will greatly reverse the impression that such guidance is required only in reaction to a crisis that has already occurred.
Families First for MS works with adults of all ages, designing classes intended to increase workplace literacy and preparedness. This educational model is forged from the vital understanding that a well-prepared candidate will not only get the job but will also keep the job.
To further assist potential or vulnerable employees, some centers have partnerships with regional industries to support job search and placement. Several centers have “Career Closets” with appropriate clothing so in-need applicants can dress for success. Onsite computer labs provide access to the Internet, so individuals can educate themselves, look for employment, and if necessary, work toward a GED.
The Gen+ program extends a hand to the elderly and aging with classes in grandparenting skills as well as opportunities to serve as volunteers in the community. This positive treatment and acknowledgement of seniors exemplifies the holistic Families First approach and represents one of its many successes.
“Our workforce development programs focus on practical, relevant skills for job seekers so that they can actually get a job making a good wage,” say Christi Webb, Executive Director of FRC. Families who live in poverty or even just face economic hardship will be positively impacted almost immediately when a parent or caregiver gets a job or gets a better job.”
The outstanding track record of Families First for Mississippi programs demonstrates a positive shift in our understanding and educating of families in all of their forms, be they households with live-in grandparents or a single-parent family with an absentee father.
Of course, for a nonprofit to educate a community, develop the whole child, and support adults seeking employment requires significant financial resources and volunteers. Make an appointment to stop by a Families First for MS center to learn more about our dynamic programming and see where you might be able to help. Like our youngest children, Families First for Mississippi is just getting started.
A service of the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi (FRC) and Mississippi Community Education Center (MCEC). Funded by the Mississippi Department of Human Services.