Foundational Life Skills in Lamont County

Posted: 9 February 2017

Author: Odette Lloyd, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 2

Recommendations: 1

Debbie HollandThis week, we are pleased to feature a guest blogger. Debbie Holland is the Director of Lamont County Community Adult Learning Council. 

Our Lamont County CALP more or less stumbled into the Foundational Life Skills component of approved programming. The foundation of all of the programs we now run stems from our family literacy program (which we named Play and Learn – P.A.L.). P.A.L. is based on two family literacy models. In our first hour we do a mix of Rhymes That Bind and storytelling/reading time with the parents (guardians) and children combined. We explain to the parents how critical it is to nourish the thirsty little minds in their early years. When we point out what it truly means when their child reaches for a book or a page in a book we can see the lights go on. It is so rewarding to watch literacy emerging in the children and to witness the recognition in the parents’ eyes when they can see their own success. After this segment of our program we provide a snack break for the children and a ½ hour transition into child care.

Being a CALP in a rural community with very few services, one of the major barriers learners face is child care. We know that for a program to be well-attended we need to offer child care. After the children are settled into child care, the adults are led by facilitators through parenting topics using literacy strategies based on the LAPS model (Literacy and Parenting Skills). This is a very fruitful segment of our program and the biggest influence in building a cohesive, supportive environment. Friendships are formed and judgements do not exist because everyone is struggling in some capacity.

As we all know, food brings people together. All our cares seem to melt away over a meal. The children return after our LAPS segment and the adults, who have had a one hour reprieve from their children, gather them up to partake of a catered lunch. Everyone leaves with full tummies and smiles on their faces. As a token of our gratitude for letting us be a part of their lives, we give each family a little gift – sometimes it is a book or child appropriate toy for the children or something just for the grown-up.

P.A.L. runs three hours for six Mondays in the spring and repeats in this fashion for the fall. As facilitators and program developers, the length of P.A.L. provides us the opportunity to truly get to know each family.

While it all sounds so warm and fluffy it takes great skill to create an accepting environment. Our family literacy facilitators succeed in doing this. They also possess extremely good instincts. In my opinion it is the facilitators who make our programs a success. For example, when they noticed there seemed to be a lot of parental anxiety and low self-esteem, they brought this to my attention. I spoke with one of our community partners and asked her if she was noticing this amongst her home-based clients. When she commented that this was, indeed, an issue we jointly prepared a program to address some of the issues. We called our program RENEW.

As stated, our RENEW program was born from the observations of our alert instructors and subsequent partner discussions. Anxiety is a fear-based emotion that may or may not be an appropriate response to something real or perceived. For parents and caregivers who did not learn from healthy role models or for those climbing out of an abyss, we needed to provide tools to reduce the anxiety we found permeating in our communities. We needed to share ways in which our parents could gain control. We needed to give them life skill strategies over and above what they were learning in our P.A.L. program. We needed for them to think differently in order to cope with stress and problem solving. It is for these reasons we developed RENEW. RENEW is a participatory workshop that equips participants with strategies to “reframe automatic negative thoughts” so they can cope more objectively with the sources of emotion and stress. Our RENEW program’s response to identified needs ended up aligning with the Foundational Learning Skills guidelines – namely decision-making and problem solving, critical thinking, self-awareness and coping with emotions and stress. We provided our participants with hands-on tools to help them better cope with reality by taming automatic and often overwhelming emotional reactions.

FCSS Lamont County Region was impressed with RENEW and asked us to deliver it to their parents and tots program. Now that RENEW has been accepted as non-threatening, we feel confident that we can slide all sorts of programming under its name. We see a need for financial literacy and are hoping we can use the RENEW banner to deliver this to families in a non-threatening way. We are still in the infancy stages of this next piece of the puzzle and we intend to take the time to do it right. Learners weave through a number of our programs depending on their needs. Some of our family literacy learners are also in our CALC Kitchen. Many have been introduced to other human service providers. Inasmuch as our “numbers” may be small, the support each family receives is strong. I need to stress however, that the launching pad for most of our participants’ desire to continue learning starts with our P.A.L. family literacy program and the way it was designed. It is our family literacy program that opens the door.

It is important to point out that all of our programs are expensive to run and we depend on a significant amount of financial and in-kind donations to sustain them. Our P.A.L. family literacy program is very expensive. Despite increasing costs we are proud to report that, since its inception in the fall of 2008, we have not had to cut any aspect of it. The mayor of the Town of Bruderheim “personally” donates to the program. Mayor Karl Hauch is a huge ambassador for us. Our gratitude to Lamont County as our Legal Host cannot be put into words. In return to all of those who support us, we offer quality programs with quality facilitators that enhance the donors’ reputations. I have recently been told that “no one can say no to Deb”. It must be my charm or my ability to cry at will.

For a rural CALP I can assure you that we have been on a long and challenging journey. When I arrived roughly eleven years ago we were running a lot of employment enhancement and general interest programs. That is certainly not the case today. We have board members who have been with us for over 20 years and have had to try and explain to their communities why the fun courses were slowly disappearing. I had to do my part to make the case for the transition easier to explain and understand, and I can assure you it wasn’t a walk in the park. I can also assure you that, so far, the journey has been worth it!

- Debbie Holland, Director
Lamont County Community Adult Learning Council

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