It's about being a good neighbor
BY JASON ASHLEY WRIGHT World Scene Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
8/24/10 at 6:43 AM
Chere Parker was in her backyard one day when she saw two grade-school boys climbing up to a carport roof.
"Like most boys, I'm sure the pure adventure of being able to get up there was half the fun," said Parker, who lives in Broken Arrow. She knew one of the boy's dads worked nights and was probably catching up on sleep. Mom wasn't at home, probably working.
Not wanting the boys to hurt themselves, she decided to intervene. It's what she called her "front porch moment."
Parker was among the first groups to attend training for the Front Porch Project, a program of the Parent Child Center of Tulsa. The program offers community training sessions to help participants learn how to protect children and strengthen families in their community before abuse or neglect occurs.
"The Front Porch training teaches you to do something if you feel a child is at risk," said Parker, who asked the boy on the roof where his dad was. As she suspected, he was sleeping. She stood there until they climbed down, then asked the father a few days later if he knew the boys were climbing the carport roof.
"He had no idea they figured out a way to get up there," she said. "And I noticed after that conversation that Dad had moved the large object the boys had used to climb up onto the carport roof so that they could not do it again."
Although she probably would've said something before taking the training sessions, Parker said, "I am much more aware of my surroundings, especially where children are involved."
That awareness is a key factor to the success of the program's mission, said Kathleen Benfield, coordinator for the Front Porch Project, which was developed in 1998 by the American Humane Association.
When you hear the term "front porch," you might think back years ago to your grandparents' porch. Or, if you grew up in a small town, you recall neighbors walking by, waving, even coming up the steps to chat while kids played in the front yard.
Now, that almost seems like a black-and-white TV memory.
"Very, very seldom are we out front," Benfield said. The purpose of the Front Porch Project is to reconnect neighbors and families in order to make a safer, more nurturing environment for children.
"Our lifestyles have changed," she said, "but the needs of our children have not."
80 trained so far
Last year, the Parent Child Center incorporated the program into its services. So far, they have trained more than 80 people in seven sessions.
And Benfield is eager to do more, whether for churches or civic organizations, even neighborhood groups. Right now, it's just about getting the word out, as many people haven't heard of the project before, she said.
Training participants learn how to be nonjudgmental, understanding and supportive, as well as how they can be available in safe and helpful ways if faced with a situation where a child or family might need assistance.
The curriculum, taught over two days a few weeks apart, is experiential, interactive, participatory and requires follow-up action. In the first day, people learn about personal comfort zones, staying safe when intervening, Oklahoma laws on child abuse and neglect, and different parenting skills. At the end of that day, each person is asked to write a personal action plan - as simple as making eye contact and smiling at a distressed parent or stopping the car to observe a suspicious situation.
Like Parker, the training made Carol Sartain, a volunteer coordinator at the center, more aware of her environment. Driving through her neighborhood, she saw a little kid in the front yard while his mom ran inside the garage.
Before training, she might have kept going. But she pulled over and stayed parked until the mom came out soon after and corralled her child back inside.
Another time, she was in a hurry, but an older woman was walking, almost weaving, in front of her at the hospital. Instead of becoming impatient, Sartain helped the woman through the parking lot - and learned she had recently lost her husband and was back at the hospital for some serious tests.
On the second day, the group discuss their action plans and whether they have had the opportunity to use the skills they learned. The group also role-plays real-life situations of what to do - one of the favorite parts of training for Jacqueline Gallegos, who coordinates the center's Kids on the Block puppet program.
She saw a mom in the grocery store with three kids - and, at one point, the mother rolled her eyes. Apparently, she wasn't having a good day.
A mom herself with grown children, Gallegos casually approached the woman. "I told her, 'I'd give anything to go back to have one more day like that.' "
The mom replied, "I'm really tired." And Gallegos was there to provide encouragement.
"You never know how people will react," Gallegos said. "But that approach felt natural to me."
Words of encouragement
As people who attend Front Porch Project groups learn, acting on training doesn't always mean intervening in a crisis; it could be offering words of encouragement, Benfield said. Maybe homemade cookies to the new family that moved in up the street. Or a smile and pat on the back to a single dad.
Like the dad she spied at a store with a group of kids ranging in age from 3 to 8, all "having a ball."
"It really picked my spirits up because they were having such a good time," Benfield said. She debated on saying something to the man. But she finally went up to him - and he looked afraid of what she was going to say about his boisterous bunch.
"You have beautiful children," she told him, "and you're doing a wonderful job." And at that, his face beamed with pride. "It meant a lot to him."
Jason Ashley Wright 581-8483
The Front Porch Project offers community training sessions to help reconnect neighbors and families and make a safer, more nurturing environment for children. Courtesy