Children’s Trust implements the Strengthening Families Program with 20 local partners in 24 counties in South Carolina. Sites recently completed the summer cycle with graduation ceremonies for their participating families. Neil White, who tells the stories of Children’s Trust, covered the recent CASA Family Systems graduation.
ORANGEBURG – Attending the Strengthening Families Program’s 14 sessions can present some challenges. Life always manages to place obstacles in the way for parents.
Kids can get sick. Jobs can take priority. Transportation can be an issue. It takes determination and dedication to clear all the hurdles and successfully navigate the program, which is designed to help families develop positive discipline practices, stay resilient in tough times, reduce conflict, improve parenting skills, and assist children with social skills, relationships, and school performance.
Shacoveria Jones showed her commitment to attending the CASA Family Systems SFP sessions by driving an hour each way with her five children from her Williston home to St. Luke Presbyterian Church in Orangeburg twice a week for seven weeks to complete the program.
As Jones stood in front of the 10 participating families and CASA’s SFP staff at the graduation ceremony held at the Premiere, an Orangeburg banquet hall, she delivered a powerful testimony to the program’s meaningfulness.
Reading from four handwritten pages, she spoke of the many ways the lessons made her family stronger at home, from the bonds they built over regular family meals together to watching her young children behave more responsibly.
Jones addressed the importance of her own positivity to encourage the same trait in her children: “Rewards aren’t just about money. My kids’ faces light up when I give them high-fives.”
And she understood that being consistent with discipline, such as setting limits and enforcing rules, was also key: “That was something I was lacking, but now I stick to what I say.”
The two hours of travel to attend the two-hour sessions – which include a family meal, separate classes for parents and children, and end with a group discussion – was well worth the effort.
“You have impacted our lives in so many ways,” Jones told the crowd, “and we are forever grateful.”
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, serves as the CEO of CASA Family Systems, and she sees the impact on those who have participated in the program over the years.
“SFP is literally changing the lives of families,” she said.
Children’s Trust administers the evidence-based program, which focuses primarily on families with children ages 6 to 11, with 20 local partners in 24 counties across the state through funding from The Duke Endowment and the S.C. Department of Social Services. CASA Family Systems, a nonprofit serving Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties with a primary focus of providing support, advocacy, and intervention to individuals and families who have been affected by child abuse and neglect, family violence, or sexual assault, is one of those local partners.
James Rickenbacker, the CASA community educator who coordinated the summer cycle of SFP, strongly believes in the program’s merits.
“What makes it special for me is seeing how enriching the program is and seeing the families taking these things they’ve learned back and sharing them in their community – making the community a greater place and making their family a better one as well,” he said.
Rickenbacker notes the families build their own bonds as they go through the program together, which provides crucial support during the sessions and helps them have more social connections down the road.
“We’re becoming a family as well,” he added. “Everybody is mingling. Nobody is left out. It’s a family atmosphere. From the first week to the last, we’re getting to know each other and learning together.”
Tylaysha Johnson, 11, represented the children as one of the ceremony’s speakers, and she cited the three most important takeaways for her: communication, love and families. On a personal level, she learned how to better control her anger, and as part of the group, she loved how the facilitators made the lessons easy to understand.
“We’ve learned a lot in this program that will enable us to get along with our families,” she said. “Thank you for making it an awesome experience. Everyone here played a major part in making it a success.”
The parenting sessions teach parents to interact positively with children, which includes showing enthusiasm, paying attention to good behavior, and providing consistent discipline that leads to reasonable consequences. The children’s training includes communication skills to improve relationships with parents, peers, and teachers; resilience skills; and dealing with criticism and anger through coping skills.
Elaine McNeil, the SFP parent facilitator for CASA, watches the parents begin the program somewhat skeptically before embracing it as they put it into practice at home.
“By the middle lessons, they see the difference in their kids when they practice the skills we teach them,” McNeil said. “Toward the end they don’t want to leave.”
The celebratory evening also included a DJ with music, dancing and a magic show. For completing the program, the families were given family portraits and large bins filled with school supplies, bookbags, sets of sheets and comforters, and board games they can play together.
“It just warms my heart when I see the reactions to the family portraits,” Cobb-Hunter said. “It’s super special, and it makes me appreciate that CASA Family Systems is bringing strength to families in the tri-county area. It’s worth a million bucks.”
Sherri Caldwell, SFP manager for Children’s Trust, capped the night with warm congratulations for the families who reached the program’s end. She appreciates how CASA, which has a retention rate of 93 percent for families enrolling in the program, has delivered SFP in an engaging and faithful fashion for three years.
“CASA is doing a phenomenal job implementing the SFP program in Bamberg and Orangeburg counties,” Caldwell said. “Families lives are truly enriched and strengthened. Whether it is CASA’s program night or graduation, families can always expect a delicious meal, energized staff, and lots of fun.”
Angela Thomas, a parent whose family, like the Jones family, achieved perfect attendance for the 14 sessions, said SFP has caused her to reflect on the importance of child development. She has learned to manage stress and build better relationships with her children.
At the end of the evening, the families and staff recited three creeds that highlight what makes families stronger. McNeil cited the compassion and genuineness the SFP facilitators bring to the lessons.
“The staff really enjoys working with the families and seeing them grow,” she said.