Casey Family Programs recognizes the work of the Bester Community of Hope, a San Mar Initiative, with a video highlighting our efforts, as well as a story in it’s signature annual report, read more here: https://www.casey.org/hope/
Pouring rain didn’t stop countless families from attending Family Day on this Good Friday at the new Bester Community of Hope offices in Hagerstown, Maryland. This year’s theme “Wild About Families” transformed the community office into a jungle of activities centered around family photographs and activities about thriving families. “Our goal every year is to have fun, make connections and celebrate all the things that make families strong by promoting the protective factors,” explained Bester Community of Hope Director Jennifer Younker. The protective factors encompass five priorities for families: social & emotional competence of children, concrete supports in times of need, social connections, parental resilience and knowledge of parenting & child development.
Upstairs in the social connections station, families took a quote about belonging from author Jane Howard and created unique posters with hand prints comprising of all members of the family. Neighborhood Partnership Coordinator Kerry Fair explained, “Social connections matter because we are all part of the same community and when we know each other we can help each other.” As one parent completed her poster she shared, “Before I got involved here, I wasn’t very social because I have social anxiety. But now it’s easy because I know people.”
At the social and emotional competence of children station, children built mindfulness kits and took home the book “Greedy Steve” to learn all about making healthy choices. Local Community Resource Officer Alex Routhier was at the event helping at the concrete resources in times of need station, and noted, “It’s great to see how families worked through all of the activities together. Kids are really honest, they know what they need and what they don’t need.” Routhier wasn’t able to finish his thought as a child, Kimaya, ran into him for a bear hug from their past positive connections in the neighborhood. Knowledge of parenting & child development was demonstrated through a variety of games families attempted that highlighted exploration, discovery and strategy. Lead Family Support Worker Teri Conrad explained, “Kids learn through play and it can help build the relationships between parent and child.”
Parental resilience was showcased in two different stations, parents identified the strengths in their family system, and then took a moment to receive a massage from licensed massage therapist Ola Jones. San Mar volunteer Tim Harrison noted, “I’m seeing a lot of smiling faces and happy people. I also see that a lot of love went into preparing for this day.” As one family was leaving for the day, a mother noted, “We were in a rush, so I didn’t get a chance to get a massage.” Her daughter interrupted, “Don’t worry mom, I’ll give you one when we get home, that’s why I’m here. I’m here to help!”
Bester Community of Hope and activities like Family Day are made possible by the generosity of our core partners: the Washington County Department of Social Services, the Alice Virginia & David W. Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs. To learn more about how you can get involved in the work to improve well-being for families, school and neighborhoods in the South End of Hagerstown, Maryland, get in touch at email@example.com or 240-513-6370.
A diverse group of 450 community stakeholders came together today to learn from national speakers at “Unconditional Care” on the campus of Hagerstown Community College at the Kepler Theater. Hosted by Bester Community of Hope, a San Mar Initiative, this event was the sixth installment in a series of trainings focused on beliefs and strategies for social progress, and this event placed a particular emphasis on self-care and understanding the impact of caring for others. Bester Community of Hope Director Jen Younker, LCSW-C explained,”Those who work taking care of others often disregard the need for self-care until signs of distress arise. Even then, we still may not recognize the signs as maladaptive or troublesome. If we take a preventative approach by taking care of our nervous system, we can mitigate the effects and keep our A game strong.”
Tonier Cain, founder and CEO of Healing Neen Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland, brought to the audience her amazing personal story of resilience. Overcoming profound trauma and devastating challenges, including drug addiction and living life on the streets, Cain was eventually able to address the root causes of her behavior and use it as a launching pad for her worldwide success. “When my belief system changed, is when my thoughts changed.” She revealed deeply personal moments, and reflected on her journey to recovery, “I remember the moment that I thought things may have changed. I was in a program and someone snapped a photo of me playing with my daughter. And I saw her smile.” As a living success story, Cain urged the audience to consider her when thinking of others they support, “If you don’t believe in the people we serve, how can they have hope for themselves!”
Brothers Ali and Atman Smith along with Andres Gonzalez came together to share their work from the Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore City, a comprehensive program focused on teaching mindfulness practices to communities as a tool for both self-regulation and helping others. The trio took the time during the presentation to show the work in action, by leading audience members through a variety of breathing and mindfulness practices. On different occasions the audience fell silent as they were lead through different approaches, with the hope that this first hand practice experience would be useful tools for both professionals and those served.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Founder and Director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute, brought humor and research to lead a focused dialogue on developing insight on the personal toll of working to care for the needs of others. She blended that dialogue with some common sense responses, including focusing on your purpose, to ensure helpers weren’t headed towards a destination of burnout. “Why am I doing what I am doing everyday? As long as you’re honest, you can remind yourself of your why! Our lives are not being done to us; we are co-creators.”
Noteworthy contributors also included longtime San Mar psychiatrist Dr. Ira Lourie, a thought leader in developing effective systems of care. San Mar Family & Community Services CEO Keith Fanjoy also used the occasion to deliver the 2019 Jim Casey Building Communities of Hope award to the Community Free Clinic of Washington County, as well as recognize long-time San Mar board member Susan Peterson for her dedicated service.
The Bester Community of Hope initiative is made possible due to a significant investment of resources from the Washington County Department of Social Services and the Maryland Department of Human Services, the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs, along with a network of active partners.
Special memories that will last a lifetime were created tonight as close to 400 students and parents attended the “Healthy New Year” celebration at Bester Elementary. The Bester Wellness Committee comprised of school teachers and Bester Community of Hope partnered to create a unique dance event celebrating strong families and healthy resolutions. Teachers worked together and the gymnasium and cafeteria was transformed into a winter wonderland with lights and music, and children and their parents wore the best attire for a special night out.
There was also a table where students filled out healthy resolution cards to hang on a tree at school, which allowed for conversations with their family about their goals for 2018. Jamal wrote, “Turn negative thoughts into positive thoughts” while another young person wrote,” Eat less junk and work out!” Ornella and her mom committed to “Schedule a date night at least once a month” and Kylee echoed those thoughts saying we need to, “Eat as a family three times a week.” A selfie station nearby allowed families to take pictures together with decorative backgrounds and capture the moment together while celebrating their time together.
Bester Community of Hope volunteers waited on families at their tables with a variety of healthy snack options including grapes, strawberries and cheese. Volunteer Liz Oden explained, “These children are our future, if we can be just a little part of encouraging them and putting a smile on their face it’s a good day.” First grade teacher Ms. Carosella explained, “I see all my former students and they are all dressed up with their parents. Some of the parents I see here I wasn’t able to meet in the past because of different work commitments. It’s so nice to meet them and tell them your child is doing a great job.” As she finished her story an old student rushed into her arms, “Yeshua!”, and after a family photo she was off to the dance floor with him. A father was with his child and explained, “I’ve been up since 3 a.m. and it took me three hours to get here from work near the Bay Bridge to get here in time, but I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Guidance counselor Linda Silver commented, “I appreciated and loved seeing so many parents as they helped to celebrate their children. Both the students and parents alike were so dressed up and enjoyed themselves a great deal!” The dance floor was packed the entire evening, as kids, teachers and parents danced together, a stark change to their typical daytime interactions, even forming an extended conga line. Bester Assistant Principal Donald Ansel beamed at the end of the night sharing, “I’m very proud of our school, students and staff. This is what this community and school is all about.” At the end of the evening, all attendees gathered in the center of the dance floor and counted down to a symbolic new year one more time, and committed to new beginnings and promises for a brighter tomorrow with their family by their side.
Tickets on sale now: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/collective-impact-tickets-41970452754?aff=es2
The Walking School Bus officially wrapped its first year of programming for Bester Elementary students who walk to school. During the 2016-2017 school year a variety of community partners came together monthly to join children and families on their journey to Bester. Congressman John Delaney and his team made a special visit to the G&G Grill meeting location today and had breakfast with children and families.
A couple months ago, Bester student Ornella Provard was at a public forum with her mother Kay Papeskov and asked Congressman Delaney “Will you walk to school with me?” He followed up and scheduled a time to join all of Bester’s students during their journey and made sure all participants received a special commemorative coin from the U.S. House of Representatives to go along with their juice box and Teddy Grahams. Today students arrived at various meeting locations and filled out a Bester paw print to describe their favorite thing about going to school. They also wrote words of encouragement on large posters for graduating South Hagerstown High School seniors set to visit Bester for their annual senior walk on May 31st.
As the group was leaving the Triple Coin Laundromat meeting location, a first grade girl sprinted to catch up the group and said, “Thanks for waiting for me! I never want to miss this!” Kids were joined by other special guests including Congregation B’nai Abraham Rabbi Ari Plost, Health Department officials, and members of the local fire department and EMT’s, some of which who were beginning the first hour of a 24 hour shift. Young children were enamored with the fire truck at Frederick Manor, while 5th graders who filled out positive statements about Bester struggled with the idea of leaving to go to middle school next year. “What’s your favorite thing about Bester?” an EMT asked a child at Memorial Park. “Mrs. Henline,” the two children at Memorial Park responded about their teacher, “She makes class fun by playing games and she’s really nice.” As all four groups arrived at Bester a row of community partners cheered and celebrated as children ran into the school entrance getting hi-fives, a great start to the school day!
Bester Elementary’s Walking School Bus is a monthly parent-led effort focused on attendance and social connections, supported by community partners including the Bester Community of Hope. We hope to continue to support this effort in the 2017-2018 school year; interested in participating or have great ideas for a fun theme? Let us know at 240-513-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us!