The Original Parenting Community

Leelanau_CountyThe original “Parenting Community” was started by Maggie Sprattmoran. Maggie was executive director of the Leelanau Children’s Center in northwestern Michigan, where she has been helping residents build safe, strong families and communities since the early 1990s.

Maggie’s Parenting Community offered parents peer-based mentoring that would give them a connection to each other and a way to build and maintain the five protective factors.

The Parenting Community in Leelanau arose from three specific needs that were identified in northwestern Michigan:

  1. Parents needed support that early childhood teachers alone could not provide.
  2. Parents were having difficulty connecting around parenting issues and getting programming and resources when they needed them in this rural area.
  3. Most health and human services resources were located in the city, making it difficult for farm families with limited transportation to take care of basic needs.

In Leelanau County, many service organizations are part of the effort—with paid staff in the health department, childcare programs, and the school system. This has improved the way all services in Leelanau County are delivered to families. “We’ve found that our health department has become increasingly family friendly and developmentally appropriate,” Maggie explains. “Our childcare workers have become increasingly aware of what it’s like to be a family in 2013—not just what it’s like to be a kid.”

In Leelanau County, the Parenting Community includes providing services where families naturally gather. For example, through the Laundry Project, a local Laundromat opens in the morning twice a month, allowing families to do their laundry for free. Home visiting staff from the local child care center are available to visit with parents, find out what’s been going on their lives, and spend time with kids—while parents wash and dry loads of laundry.

And at the community hub known as the Baby Pantry, people of all ages and income levels are welcome. “In many communities, to go to the pantry, you have to prove eligibility and you sort of get branded as poor as you walk through the door,” says Maggie, “But at the Baby Pantry, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; you could be taking things, bringing things—you could just be coming to hang out with families.”

In addition to supporting families, Leelanau County also provides support for workers who serve families in the area. “We know that people who do frontline work see and experience a lot of things that are disconcerting to them,” Maggie explains. “And we believe they need a particular kind of support, which is called reflective practice, because we really want them to have a chance to work through that, so that they’re not reactive when they’re with families.”

Maggie says it’s important to a Parenting Community that programs are not eligibility based; they are open to all parents. “A Parenting Community is really an effort to have a universal opportunity for parents,” Maggie explains. “Anybody can come to anything, anytime.”