Better Together Community Conversations

BETTER TOGETHER!

"Better Together!" is a community-based,  parent-run effort to create meaningful connections and conversations about what works and what parents can do together to build an even stronger neighborhood. Most importantly, it provides a network of support for young children and their families. While the children participate in a kid's cafe' program, parents utilize this time to develop social networks, promote healthy parent-child relationships and connect with community networks. These conversations are instrumental in providing a safe and respectful environment to communicate on topics important to them; learn from each others' collective knowledge on topics such as parenting, gardening, family activities and work together to develop ways to make their neighborhoods more "family friendly". For further details about what Better Together is doing in our community, read the press release below!

BROOKTONDALE:

Brooktondale's parent conversations were led by parent leaders Janelle and Elissa  in conjunction with Brooktondale Community Center, Brooktondale Food Pantry, Caroline Youth Commission and CCE-Tompkins as community partners.

There is currently a twice a week playgroup meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am-noon at the Brooktondale Community Center. Children up to age five are welcome!  Please contact Kate VanZile-Hunt  @ 607-227-8951 or by email kmvanzile@aol.com for more information.

GROTON:

Groton's parent conversations were  facilitated by parent leaders Dawn and Lila in cooperation with community partners from CCE-Tompkins, Groton's Families! and Tompkins Community Action's Head Start and Early Head Start.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

 
Better Together! Community Conversations for Parents and Others
Press Release

Brooktondale and Groton families are working to build community and support through parent
conversations. Between the months of May and July 2012, parents with infants and young children in
these two rural neighborhoods developed friendships for both themselves and their children from these
intentional community conversations.

Parents of young children have a lot on their plates and quite often express feelings of isolation. And
current employment and economic stresses add to their challenges. Even though our current technology
devices easily connect friends and family all over the world, quite often we do not even know who
our neighbors are. Better Together! Community Conversations for Parents and Others is a project
that empowers these neighborhood members by utilizing the strengths of fellowship, participation in
activities for both adults and children and development of meaningful conversations. Most importantly,
this approach provides a network of support for these young children and their families as they connect
and collaborate with community partners. These conversations are instrumental in providing a safe
and respectful environment where people communicate on topics important to them; learn from each
other’s collective knowledge on topics such as parenting, gardening, fun family activity ideas and work
together to develop ways to make their neighborhoods more ‘family friendly.’

The most important component of this model is that parents drive the discussion topics and develop
the activities for both the adults and the children. Brooktondale’s parent conversations were led
by Parent Leaders Janelle Alvstad-Mattson and Elissa Wolfson in conjunction with Brooktondale
Community Center, Brooktondale Food Pantry, Caroline Youth Commission, and CCE-Tompkins as
community partners.

Groton’s events were facilitated by Parent Leaders Dawn Loga and Lila Pierce in cooperation with
community partners from CCE-TCompkins’ Groton’s Families! and Tompkins Community Action’s Head
Start and Early Head Start.

Janelle took some time to answer a few questions about the project:

1. How has the Better Together! Community Conversations for Parents and Others helped you
connect with your community?

As a result of this project, we were able to meet other parents with young children, discover the
needs in our community and together, we were able to come up with ideas on how to strengthen
our community. Several of us wanted to learn about family and child activities that were going on in
or around our area and each of us knew about things that someone else didn’t. Because of this, we
decided to start developing a listserve that would be specific to our community as another way to keep
in touch, learn about activities and just have another way to connect. Another benefit this café model
brought was that friendships developed beyond the two café events and several small groups have
formed beyond the model. A new mom, who attended the cafe, has organized a 2x/week playgroup on
Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00am-noon in the Brooktondale Community Center. It was exciting
to see other moms stepping up and taking on a leadership role in their community. Another group of
moms who were interested in getting more exercise in their lives started walking together with their
children in strollers.

2. What were some of the challenges to hosting these events?

Really, the hardest part is getting new people out to attend the cafés . It can be such a foreign
concept to be empowered, to hold conversations and to actually be listened to, in a respectful way.
We tried hosting the two cafés at different times and different days of the week to accommodate
more schedules.

3. What were some rewards with holding the conversations?

The opportunity to meet new people, who live right in the community, but who I didn’t know before
the events and the enthusiastic “thank you” I received from the people who attended. They said it
was empowering to be listened to, to be part of building community and to have the opportunity to
contribute to and learn from each other.

4. Were any community connections made as a result of these events?

Yes! Several parents expressed a need for a parent’s night out that was inexpensive and safe. One of
the parents who attended the café knew that the Brooktondale Baptist Church holds a once a month
community outreach for this very thing. They have recruited church members to volunteer the first
Friday of every month from 6:30-9:30 pm at the church. It is free and open to the community. The
church provides snacks and age appropriate activities and games. For my family it was nice because we
are from Minnesota and my children don’t have a lot of opportunities to be around their grandparents.
Many of the volunteers at the church were “grandparent” age and my kids had a great time!

The “Better Together!” project evolved from Early Childhood Development Collaboration in Tompkins
County, which seeks to improve access to services/resources that promote the health and well-being of
our youngest children and those who love them. Generous support from the Community Foundation of
Tompkins County, the Park Foundation and NYSPEP/Children & Family Trust Fund, helps with childcare,
supplies, trainings, refreshments and hosts’ expenses for the events.

The Collaboration is seeking nominations of five more neighborhoods to host community
conversations for parents. Please contact either Anna Steinkraus or Elizabeth Wolff at Cornell Cooperative
Extension Tompkins County at 607-272-2292 with your interest in furthering this model of our
community supporting our youngest citizens.

The following links demonstrate the community café approach and how it is used both nationally and
internationally:
www.theworldcafe.org
www.thecommunitycafe.com