A helping hand: Parenting Resource Center marks 40 years

Published 5:02 pm Saturday, July 22, 2017

The success of the Parenting Resource Center has come from its ability to reflect the needs of the community, have a determination to establish what is needed, and work collaboratively with other agencies to make the visions come true, according to officials.

The PRC is marking its 40th year, an umbrella organization under which a variety of programs are focused on the safe care of children, and the support of their parents, in Mower and Freeborn counties.

Today, said Executive Director Gema Alvarado-Guerrero, the PRC is the base or partner to 13 programs, with 15 people on staff at all times.

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Funding comes through different revenue streams, but primary sources are through grants and the Mower County United Way.

The center doesn’t look exactly as it did back in 1977, when two women became co-coordinators of a parenting education program.

The late Karen Mohr and Donna Krebsbach, who no longer lives in the community, embarked on the program with funding from United Way. The PRC’s first location was at Lincoln School, now the Lincoln Apartments, recalled former director, Maryanne Law.

“They were very insightful women,”  and the program soon caught on, Law said. “The building was rent-free and these wonderful volunteers wanted to offer parenting classes.”

Norma Klaehn, the PRC’s third director, headed up a “Project Safe” program for the PRC under the two women. It was geared for parents of children with special challenges. Mohr and Krebsbach recognized Klaehn’s ability to work with people and asked her to join them for 30 hours a week, conducting home parenting visits. She was excited and agreed.

“My life had a black hole in it; I had a handicapped child, a son who at 24 years old and was moving into a group home. And I needed a job.”

She recalled that Mohr and Krebsbach had a desk and a phone, “and that was it. I can remember bringing my own card table and pencils on my first day,” she said with a chuckle.

She learned early that being flexible was key to parenting programs. Some parents could not figure out why she was there; some said they could come if she brought food with her.

“We learned a lot by trial and error in those first years,” she said. “It was a great learning experience, but not peaches and cream. We tried different approaches and found out what worked and what didn’t.”

Klaehn became director in 1985 when Mohr moved from town (Krebsbach had moved earlier) and served 10 years, when Law took over.

Klaehn helped to establish the Parent WarmLine, a parent phone service, which she still oversees. She is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will answer “every type of call, from the mom of a 4-year-old, to a mom whose teen is driving her crazy, to parents of a 24-year-old son who just moved back home. I calm them down, and we work on solutions. If one thing doesn’t work, we try something else.”

Early programs proved to be seeds from which other community programs grew — early childhood education was one; chemical use prevention was another. The Mower County Chemical Health Coalition was the early incarnation of Austin Positive Action Coalition, formed by a state-funded Planning and Implementation grant. The PRC is the supervisory site for the program.

Some programs came because there was state funding for it, Law said. The Parent WarmLine, Crisis Nursery, and parenting group projects, all came about due to state funding from what was then called the Children Trust Fund. Those funds were no longer available by the early 2000s, and decisions were made to find other funding sources and continue with the programs.

Programs have come and gone; one of the PRC’s biggest challenges for the board of directors in upcoming months is evaluating all services “and making sure they are still relevant,” said Alvarado-Guerrero. “I think most, if not all, are relevant, but it’s a matter of telling people about them.” But since many of the services circle around issues of divorce, visitation and custody — all issues that demand confidentiality and sensitivity — some services don’t get a lot of “press.”

Alvarado-Guerrero began her duties in October 2016. She was no stranger to the operation. In 2013, she was hired as a parent educator and also monitored visitations and exchanges. As director, she is juggling many details from many programs, but is confident in her abilities to work with other agencies and programs and her commitment to making life better for the kids.

At the forefront of PRC’s mission is its investment in children. It operates a crisis nursery for children from infant to 12 years, whose parents lack support or resources to take care of their families for short-term care. The confidential emergency service operates 24 hours a day, each day of the year.

Partnering with Parents was created with the goal of reducing child neglect and abuse. Under its umbrella is the Parent WarmLine; Parent2Parent, which is a peer support program, and matches, upon request, “veteran” parents of children with special needs with parents whose children were newly diagnosed with a disability; and parent education, with group and individual sessions. The group parenting classes are incorporated into Parents Forever divorce education; Workforce Development job search classes; Riverland Community College Parent Center lunches, and other areas.

Peer Power Partners mentoring program harkens back to one of the PRC’s early missions of providing services to children with special needs. Students with special needs are matched with peers in the general student population who together promote friendship, understanding and advocacy. The active program is a collaboration between the PRC, Austin Public Schools, and Vision 2020 Community Pride and Spirit. The program, based at the younger grades, expanded this past year to Austin High School.

Perhaps one service that has drawn the most mention in recent years has been been the Michael H. Seibel Center Family Visitation and Exchange Center, established in 2008. The center provides a non-threatening environment for exchanges of children of separated or divorced parents, or visitations by non-custodial parents. Ultimately, it provides a safety net at an emotional time.

“Compared to five years ago, the use of the center has grown by 25 percent,” Alvarado-Guerrero said.

Last year, staff monitored 799 visitations, and 456 exchanges, she added. Those were generated by 220 clients and 104 children. The balance is made up of parent and caregivers, foster parents and grandparents, representing 54 families.

The Seibel Center was established after the Crime Victims Resource Center stopped providing the service.

“Everything we do, we do for the kids,” Alvarado-Guerrero said. “The most important thing in this service (Seibel), is that we eliminate conflict. We’re the neutral party who works with the courts — but are not part of the courts — and it keeps children safe.”

“It is a wonderful addition to the community,” agreed Klaehn, a thought echoed by Law. “It is something that was so important for the community and a major undertaking. But it is state-of-the-art and a real credit to the community.”

Alvarado-Guerrero urges anyone who might have an interest in any of the services, to contact the PRC at 507-437-8330.

“Our door is always open” she said. “Sometimes, we are seen as a reactive program, but we want people to come and see us. I am more than happy to give you a tour.”

Those interested can call 507-437-8330.

The Parenting Resource Center is 40 years old this year. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Projects and Program  Uses in 2016

The Parenting Resource Center is overseen by a 10-member board of directors and Executive Director Gema Alvarado-Guerrero. The center provides 13 programs that provides for the well-being of children with parent education and support.

The programs and their activity in 2016 (where documented) include:

Crisis Nursery of Mower and Freeborn counties: 115 unduplicated clients, which includes 73 children. A total of 136 placements were provided.

Partnering with Parents: A total of 2,205 unduplicated clients were served in the following programs:

•Parent WarmLine

•Parent 2 Parent

•Community Prevention Parents Education

Southeastern Minnesota Regional Prevention Center: Partners with 11 southeastern Minnesota counties in alcohol, tobacco and other drug prevention efforts. The PRC is the supervisory site for the group.

Planning and Implementation program: Hosted locally by the PRC, the P and I program, headed by Bill Spitzer, works with schools and the community to reduced alcohol use among youth.

Peer Power Partners: Served 192 students between I. J. Holton Intermediate School, Ellis Middle School and Austin High School. The mentoring program supports special needs children via peer friendships.

Specialty Library: Provides free prevention education resources by use of a SELCO library card. Located at the PRC.

RealCare Babies: A prevention program with the goal of delaying sexual activity and teen pregnancy. The 26 ethnically diverse dolls talk to students. They are considered a most realistic version of an infant.

Preschool Rainbow Bus Route Aides: Approximately 170 children use the United Way of Mower County service, staffed with aides from the PRC, that takes them to preschool classes.

Parents Forever: Divorce Education: Sessions provide education classes for divorcing parents, intended to minimize the stress of the transition.

Michael H. Seibel Family Visitation and Exchange Center: Provides neutral supervision of visitations and exchanges of children whose parents are divorced or separated.

Catherwood Home Childcare: Provides care to 37 children that need nontraditional services, including flexibility of hours. Good news: number of child care providers increased, allowing more child care for second shift families.