Babypalooza 2018 was the place to be for young families in Washington County on Saturday, with close to 800 individuals entering Bester Elementary School on a cool autumn day, close to four times more attendees than the same event in 2017. Now in it’s third year, Babypalooza was created as a community baby shower to support expectant parents as well as young families with children from newborn to five, helping to develop community connections and obtain supportive resources.
“I think it’s an awesome experience for the community,” explained Amy Palfrey, CPNP of the Children’s Doctor. Her co-worker Miranda Turnblacer, CPNP agreed, explaining, “We want to show families that there is good pediatric care here and available in their community.” The school was packed with families taking advantage of all the opportunities, including local parent Leticia Diaz. “I’m here for support and resources. Maryland Excels was here so I’m thinking about daycare options for my kids which will help me work and support my family without stressing because I’ll know they’ll be taken care of.”
Towson University nursing students from the Hagerstown campus were present in big numbers to provide resources on birth control, postpartum depression, as well as providing safe sleep demonstrations and teaching swaddling techniques. “The turnout was a lot bigger than I expected,” explained Towson Nursing student Madison Null. “There were a lot of pregnant moms, or those with young kids who were asking about our information. I think it was very helpful and useful because we were being asked lots of good questions.”
The Family Center of Washington County joined to provide opportunities for families including educational supportive services, with their staff members Anthony Bostic and Jamie Matthewson onsite. “I think it’s an awesome opportunity to get connected to community resources and for agencies to get the word out about what they do,” Matthewson explained. The Community Free Clinic of Washington County was also present and able to offer a variety of resources, and commented on the positive engagement with so many thankful participants. CFCWC Board President Major Warren explained, “We identified a lot of parents and mothers who were lactose intolerant, so we were able to respond by bringing 28 cases of formula specific to the need, and we were able to give it all away to very appreciative parents.”
Aside from a variety of great information and resources, there were also activities such as face painting, a clothing exchange, a diaper giveaway, family photographs and a meet & greet with Minnie & Mickey Mouse to go along with lots of door prizes. Valued partner It’s a Blessing to Be a Blessing was onsite feeding the community at no cost. On the way out of the event, grandparent Theresa Marshall was pushing a stroller and explained, “I’ve never been to this before, so I came with my daughter and grandchildren. Although we didn’t win any of the prizes there was still lots of great information here.” Local parent Kayla Shetler celebrated with her friends and family after winning one of the five grand prizes, a basket with pillows, blankets and camping gear. “Oh, she’s [my daughter] gonna love my prize!”
Jessica Burton, a parent who took the opportunity to get a photograph of her children with Mickey and Minnie Mouse (above) explained why she took the time to participate, “It’s a great opportunity to bring the community together and support each other as families. It’s important.”
At the third annual South Side Community Block Party, the San Mar initiative Bester Community of Hope brought together a massive celebration focused on families and neighborhoods at beautiful City Park. Fall temperatures and the first dry Saturday in weeks brought a constant stream of close to 2,000 children, families and members of the general public. The event offered something for everyone, but the primary goal for organizers was to create social connections in the neighborhood. Bester Community of Hope Director Jennifer Younker explained, “Life is stressful and raising a family is tough. This event is about coming together as a community and having fun! Having our community providers present allows us to build a network of support that is important for every family.”
Headlined by musical act The Soul Rebels from New Orleans, and The Chuck Brown Band from Washington D.C. performing at the Peter Buys Band Shell, there was a constant stream of eclectic music for audiences to enjoy “I think of one of the great things about this event was the diversity and the togetherness was truly beautiful,” explained Soul Rebels touring manager Anderson Ireland. Almost forty community resource vendors were present sharing various information on resources available to the public that ranged from social services, health and neighborhood coalitions of community residents. Anthony Bostic is an active resident in his neighborhood through a variety of personal and professional affiliations, and he was onsite providing resident’s information regarding the program Dad’s Connection as a part of the Washington County Department of Social Services Family Center. “This is the best one yet. It’s the right place, the right lay out. You guys took over City Park!” Community organization “It’s a Blessing to be a Blessing” prepared and served a free meal to close to 1000 people. Director Dierdre Norris, Hagerstown’s own version of Bea Gaddy, brought her mission of love and support to the event for the second straight year to the delight of those eating her prepared tasting plates.
Bester Community of Hope staff and South Hagerstown High School volunteers manned a variety of carnival games including a dunk tank, sledgehammer, speed pitch and a very popular laser tag course. “I liked playing the games,” Jaydin explained, while his mother Amber continued by saying the best part was, “Spending time with my family.” Nearby, members of Old Line Garrison 501st Legion volunteered two Star Wars Stormtroopers, and combined with a meet and greet with members of the Paw Patrol, kids and adults alike were star struck! Hagerstown Police Department community resource officer Mark Morris explained, “This is a nice event because there was a lot of opportunity for people to come out and see what is available to them. And I got to take pictures with Storm Troopers! Doesn’t get much better than that!” The event covered a large area of City Park, including allowing free access to the City Park Train museum with barrel rides, as well as free paddleboat rides on the City Park Lake facilitated by River & Trail Outfitters.
Mr. Anthony of the Boy Scouts was onsite as a community vendor and is known for his booming voice, the kind you need to wrangle lots of high energy kids. “This right here is my favorite table at this event (bike helmet giveaway)! You guys take an amazing community day and give it purpose and that’s why you matter in this town.” San Mar CEO Keith Fanjoy explained, “We’ve been involved in a formal partnership with families of this neighborhood dating back to 2014, and we’re so excited to see the continued growth and revitalization of this corner of Hagerstown. When you take the time to listen and genuinely respond to what the community desires you see the success of activities like today. There is no question that the South Side is on the rise.”
Photography provided by Kevin Gilbert
A broad coalition of 650 community stakeholders came together today to learn from national speakers at “Collective Impact” at the Maryland Theatre. Hosted by Bester Community of Hope, a San Mar Initiative, this event was the fifth installment in a series of trainings focused on beliefs and strategies for social progress within families, schools and neighborhoods. Targeted grant funding from the Community Foundation of Washington County, Washington County Department of Social Services and Casey Family Programs made this event a reality.
“Are your expectations high enough? It can be done,” explained Geoffrey Canada, President of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada, a prominent national figure in education reform and social change who has been at the forefront of innovation, and whose work has led others to replicate his efforts including President Obama through the Promise neighborhood program. He had the audience regularly laughing as he told stories of raising money, trying to work with politicians and developing a plan for the success of the neighborhood. He also emphasized, “No one is coming to save your kids. If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.” His call to action also highlighted, “and if you don’t believe something, you are not going to do it.”
At past events BCOH screened the films Resilience and Paper Tigers along with their Director Jamie Redford, the latter of which highlighted the efforts of school Principal Jim Sporleder and the amazing outcomes happening at Lincoln Alternative School in Walla Walla, Washington. Sporleder joined today’s event where he described his transformation from using traditional discipline practices as an administrator and a self-described “relationship guy” to using a trauma informed approach to working with young people. “When I realized that what I was doing was hurting kids it was like I was struck by a bolt of lightning and it changed my life.” He was able to walk through a variety of research and practical examples both personal and professional explaining how to shift the dialogue towards restoration. He described a situation recently when he engaged with former struggling students whom he reconnected with in the community where he told them, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently. I want to ask you for forgiveness.” They said, “Well, we were no angels you know!”
Dante DeTablan, Vice President of the United Way of Central Maryland at the Ben Franklin Center for Community Schools, shared his personal parenting journey prior to becoming a Community School Coordinator in Baltimore City. He then explained how this process not only gave him empathy for populations being served but instilled in him a bold vision for where the community could go. He found that there was great pessimism and trauma in the area, with one longtime leader saying, “Dante, don’t raise my expectations.” But since that time milestones have included the mobilization of 80 community partners to support the school and neighborhood, “and our job is to be air traffic controllers.” Today, Ben Franklin High School continues to make significant progress by focusing on relationships.
Retiring Chief Executive Officer Bruce T. Anderson of San Mar Family & Community Services opened the day by sharing lessons from his 33 years as the leader of the social services organization. “I have often said that I can’t change a person, but I can create an environment where they want to change. I was wrong. The research says that for the kids we serve it takes just one caring adult to change their brain structure.” Anderson also introduced BCOH Director Keith Fanjoy who will begin the role of San Mar CEO on April 2nd. Other special guests included: Steven McAdams of the Governor’s Office on Community Initiatives; Washington County Teacher of the Year Carolyn Holcomb and Tim Morrow, Principal of Antietam Academy and Strong Schools Maryland.
Bester Community of Hope is made possible due to a significant investment of resources from the Washington County Department of Social Services, the Alice Virginia and David W. Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs, the latter of which supports a national demonstration effort entitled “Building Communities of Hope”
Tickets on sale now: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/collective-impact-tickets-41970452754?aff=es2
“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows, LIKE A LIGHT BULB!” This past Wednesday students and parents on the Walking School Bus wrapped up the month of December singing Christmas carols and drinking hot chocolate served by leaders from local houses of faith in the Bester neighborhood. Members of Emmanuel United Methodist Church, New Life World Ministries, St. John’s Lutheran, Hagerstown Church of the Brethren and Cumberland Valley Baptist Church all came together to support kids and families. As the students arrived to their “bus stop”, a Bluetooth speaker played classic holiday songs, and one of the students arrived and said, “I had to come today because of the hot chocolate!” There were also smaller connections between community members and parents. We heard, “If you like to volunteer, swing by the church sometime, we’re right up the road.”
With the arrival of winter, the month of December saw a significant change in temperatures during the Walking School Bus, especially on December 13th when the wind chill hovered around zero degrees. Fortunately, it was the same date that we distributed hand warmers as well as new hats and mittens to all participants, made possible thanks to grant funding and local donations from the Young family and handmade offerings from The Quilt Shop at Traditions at White Swan. As we arrived at the school entrance several other kids were huddled up and shivering in the cold so kids turned to the neighborhood ambassadors and asked, “Do you have more?” Luckily there was an abundance so all who needed them were able to receive them.
Throughout the month of December kids couldn’t contain their excitement for the upcoming holiday and the activities reflected the season with a Christmas tree cup stacking speed challenge and Cookie Face, where you place a Christmas cookie on your forehead and attempt to eat it hands free! One of the kids at Frederick Manor shouted, “This is hard! You try it!” This month we had four raffle prize winners of select sporting goods items to encourage healthy play: Kaydence Plummer, Ayden Robey, Josiah Davis and Maleana McDaniel. Way to go! Next month we’re excited to be able to give away two new fitness trackers and have activities themed around the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the more you walk the more chances to win on the Walking School Bus!
The Walking School Bus is a monthly parent-led effort managed by Bester Community of Hope (BCOH) and sponsored by a generous grant funded by the Washington County Health Department. BCOH is an initiative of San Mar Family & Community Services and is possible due to the generosity of many partners, including the Fletcher Foundation, the Washington County Department of Social Services and Casey Family Programs. If you have interest in helping, we’d still like to hear from you and find ways we can partner to help kids and families get connected! Email us at email@example.com or call 240-513-6370!
This past Saturday, close to 250 people filled Bester Elementary School to celebrate young families at Babypalooza 2017! The event was planned by a committee comprised of staff from Bester Community of Hope, Early Childhood Advisory Council, Washington County Safe Kids, and the Towson University nursing program at USMH. The focus was on supporting and celebrating families while providing information on parenting, child development and family living in the neighborhood. The event was possible due to ongoing financial support from the Washington County Department of Social Services and the Fletcher Foundation.
Special guest host for the event was WDVM news anchor Tasmin Mahfuz, who connected with kids and families and helped announce various door prizes for the event. Tasmin shared that she “loved being around so many wonderful families and their cute kids!” Thanks to Scholastic, Clifford the Big Red Dog even made a special appearance during lunch, swooping down to meet and take photos with children who often stood back in stunned amazement. The Hagerstown Artists Group was doing intricate face painting as well as belly painting for expectant mothers. One mother getting her belly painted cried tears of joy when her name was drawn to receive a baby basket provided by Meritus Health.
Randy Scott, manager of Chick-Fil-A in Hagerstown, and his crew graciously donated and served 300 boxed lunches to the crowd and vendors for lunch. “Chick Fil A has a reputation of giving and it’s about stewardship. Scripture says ‘to whom much is given much is expected” and in the case of Babypalooza, it’s about magnifying the impact on the community in such a way that if we can help get more people through the door, then more people have the opportunity to learn and be connected with resources to help their families.”
One mother with an elementary age student was at the event celebrating her expectant newborn. She related that she never expected to be pregnant at this point in her life and was in need of some additional support for her child that was due soon. There was a donated stroller provided from a partner and the mother was emotional in sharing her gratitude; she was even able to bond with another parent at her table while eating lunch. They were relieved to make a connection with each other and see that they aren’t alone in their unique parenting situations. Two other parents were already connected on social media, both attended the event and brought in clothes for an exchange sponsored by Children In Need. They ended up trading items unaware that they were both in need of what the other had to offer.
Many attendees were excited to find out about ways to address safety issues in the home. Several related that they were learning about safe sleep for the first time and others expressed surprise to find out that the batteries in some children’s books/toys could burn their children. “I thought it was an urban legend” said one parent. Electric outlet plugs, drawer latches, and other supplies were available to improve the child safety in the home.
No one walked away empty handed as guests filled their bags with information on parenting, early learning, health and safety as well as complimentary items from a variety of vendors. The Knit Wits, a local crocheting group, donated handmade baby blankets and accessories that were also given away for free at each table. Guests were able to connect with local providers, gain valuable information, and had the opportunity to learn about services and supports available in their community. Local parent Robin Hines said, “It was awesome and (there were) so many community resources. Need to do this more often and bring the families and their children together.”
THANK YOU to each organization and partner who made this event a first class experience for families, we hope to see you again next year!
Special thanks to all of our wonderful community partners who joined us as vendors to provide education, linkages to local resources, supplies to take home as well as provide some on site entertainment: WCPS Birth to Five; Head Start of Washington County; YMCA of Hagerstown; The Washington County Department of Social Services, the Family Center of Washington County, Washington County Healthy Families, Maryland EXCELS, Washington County Health Department, Washington County Free Library, Meritus Labor and Delivery, Priority Partners, Southside Pediatrics, The Children’s Doctor, Bright Eyes Early Learning Center, Maryland Physicians Care, New Covenant Church Independent Fellowship and the Towson University Nursing Program
Several vendors were also donors of special door prizes along with other community partners including: Dr. Browns’; Shop N’ Save; San Mar Pajama project; Safe Kids; Southside Pediatrics; Hagerstown Artists Group; Community Free Clinic of Washington County; Hub at USMH; Chick Fil A; Family Healthcare; New Covenant Fellowship Independent Church ; Priority Partners; Birth to Five; Kids First Swim School; Pediatric Movement Center; Holly Luther; PNC Bank; the Knit Wits; Ready at Five; Otterbein United Methodist Church; Children in Need; Connie Connolly; Meritus Health; Mental Health Association – Healthy New Moms; Discovery Station; Frederick Pediatric Dentistry and Wells Fargo Bank.
Don’t miss Babypalooza 2017 on November 4th, 2017, celebrating young families!
Register today for the chance to win great prizes: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/babypalooza-2017-tickets-37729296341
If you haven’t noticed, there’s a movement happening in the south end of the city of Hagerstown, and it was on full display as close to 2,000 people attended the 2nd Annual South Side Community Block Party at Bester Elementary Field on Saturday.
The legendary Chuck Brown Band from Washington D.C. and Washington County favorites Staff Infection provided the music, local artist Spencer Jackson helped emcee and manage the stage, South Hagerstown High School’s men’s basketball team played against area kids on the court and also volunteered in the dunk tank, Life House Church provided a never-ending supply of snow cones and popcorn, It’s a Blessing to be a Blessing provided endless free prepared food and snacks, and close to 50 community resource vendors, community groups and kids activities were onsite to provide resources and build connections.
People from very different backgrounds joined together in the bright sunshine of the first weekend of fall to create lasting memories in the heart of their neighborhood. There was a tangible sense of unity and community pride, and today only one thing was clear, we belong here.
In a short time, this event has become a tradition, but the ripple effect will continue long after the activities are over, because the world got just a little bit smaller because people took the time to listen to each other and celebrate together. Our hope is families are able to establish partnerships with providers in their community who can help them become stronger, residents can collaborate with their peers, and children can strive for excellence in their schools and neighborhoods.
We invite you to join us and get involved as we continue to lift up local neighborhood leaders and support children and families in the Bester neighborhood. The future is bright because there is greatness here, we hope you’ll consider joining us on the journey.
This event is made possible in part due to the generosity of the Washington County Department of Social Services, Fletcher Foundation and Casey Family Programs. Want to get involved? Give us a call at 240-513-6370 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Kevin G. Gilbert