NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

It is that time of year – when we start making promises for the year to come. This year I am going to get back on my exercise routine. Almost all of us make some type of formal or informal resolution for the year. Recently I was doing some research for our adoptive parent support groups on the topic: Top Ten Parenting Tips for the New Year, and I came upon this quote from Circle of Security, a relationship based early-intervention program for families dealing with attachment issues. The quote goes like this:

(Almost) Everything I need to know about being a parent in 25 words or less:
Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible: Follow your child’s need.
Whenever necessary: take charge.

I love this quote. These are simple words and simple advice really. I love it so much that I have thought about getting a T-shirt made with the saying on it, but I imagine there would be copyright issues involved. I visualize something like the Life is Good movement, with caring parents around the world donning Circle of Security T-Shirts.

Perhaps I will order a bracelet with the words Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind engraved on it. Whenever I am feeling impatient or grumpy with my thirteen-year old, I can look at my wrist and remember my mantra. I really think that with these four words we could start a parenting revolution. Come to think of it, we could start a revolution period. Think of how different the world would be if we lived by these words: Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind.

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HOLIDAY STRESS

Carol Dunaway

Carol Dunaway, LPC/MHSP, NCC, is Clinical Manager of the ASAP Program.

The theme for Harmony’s ASAP November support group meetings has been reducing holiday stress. Parents who attended have noted that they do feel the stress associated with this time of year. The holidays are stressful enough already for most families. Expectations for a “perfect” holiday season are high, budgets might be tight, there may be conflict within families, and we all have the ideal Hallmark holiday vision in our minds. When you add into this mix the fact of being a foster or adoptive family, the holidays can be overwhelming for both adults and children. Here are some tips for making the holidays less stressful for your family.

1. Lower your expectations that you can create or will have “the perfect holiday.” Make your family time about being together, and plan low-cost family activities. Let the kids help you prepare the holiday meal, and do as much of it ahead of time as possible. Take a walk together after the meal to work off some of those calories and increase endorphins, which will improve mood. Participate in a volunteer activity as a family. Let your children choose a name off the Angel Tree to purchase gifts for a child who otherwise might not have a gift at Christmas.

2. Talk about feelings at the holidays. If you have foster or adoptive children in your home, they may be having very mixed feelings about the holidays. Oftentimes, children and teens idealize their birth family and minimize the negative experiences they may have had with them, especially around the holidays. These children often act out behaviorally during this time, creating additional stress for their foster or adoptive parents. Help your child or children express their feelings verbally by opening the discussion, giving them a safe place to talk about their feelings, and listening without judgment.

3. If the holidays are “always” too stressful for your family, give yourself the gift of celebrating family at a less busy time of year. Families often feel pulled in different directions if they have two, or three, or four sets of grandparents/in-laws to visit. Schedule family visits throughout the year when you can enjoy the experience and your children can have a more meaningful experience in a less rushed, crowded, or tense atmosphere.

4. Be kind to yourself so that you can build up your emotional reserves. Build in time in your schedule for the things that make you feel good, whether that is exercise, yoga, meditation, worshiping, reading a book, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, having some alone time with your spouse or partner – you get the point. People often give and give until they have nothing else to give. Then they feel guilty because they have to withdraw from their children or spouse or other family and take some time to refill their emotional bucket. Keep your bucket filled all year long by taking care of yourself first and you can skip the empty feelings and the guilt!

Have a wonderful holiday season and remember, take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

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THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS

Beverly Gonzalez

Beverly Gonzalez, Group and Volunteer Coordinator

Some days, as I sit at Montvale working, I think about how the journey to this place began. One might ask, why did Harmony Adoptions, now Harmony Family Center, buy a camp? How does that fit into our mission? Well, the initial answer is that we knew that this would allow us to expand our services to adoptive families. We have been doing in-home therapy for over 10 years. About 4 years ago we began doing equine therapy with the kids, but had to go to an outside barn for this. Then, one day the opportunity arose to purchase the old YMCA summer Camp Montvale.

Suddenly the possibilities available became endless! We created a new program, with cutting edge protocols, that we could use with our families. Now we could bring them in for a weekend: the whole family and work with them in this remarkable, peaceful space. The results have been absolutely amazing. Adoptive children and families connecting in a way never before hoped for.

But then I’ve seen something else. I’ve seen the incredible transformation of a truly historic property, from a sad, abandoned place, to the beautiful, garden-like place that Montvale is today. I’ve also seen how Montvale reaches the very soul of everyone who comes here. I’ve seen the kids in the creek, catching crawdads and building dams. I’ve seen families playing in the pool, shooting hoops and playing volleyball together for hours. I’ve seen countless people, old and young, who have a history with Montvale, come back. I’ve watched them walk around the field, picking ups sticks and rocks, with the most peaceful smiles on their faces, remembering what an impact Montvale had on their lives.

And so, I realize, Montvale IS a perfect fit for Harmony. It totally fulfills our mission to serve children and families – only now in an incredibly expanded way. And it makes me happy to think of my small role in the transformation of Montvale – along with our staff and hundreds of volunteers. What we are doing here matters, and it will make a difference!

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Kim Halbert

Kim Halbert, Harmony Parent Education & Training Specialist

I am sitting in the small eat-in kitchen with the mother/step-grandmother of three children in rural Campbell County. The children are in and out of the kitchen eating sandwiches and chips. The two little boys, ages 3 and 5, have been placed with their grandparents by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) because their mother is a meth addict and unable to care for her children. The boys are precious. The three year old has now seen me 3 times and he is curious but more interested in his snacks, cartoons, and his new light up shoes. This is my first visit with the five year old. His birthday is the next day and he tells me about it. I ask him if he will have birthday cake and he informs me he already has a cake with a spider on it. The children rush me over to the fridge and open the door. There is a Halloween cake with a big spider and web. He grins and the little girl says they will also have ice cream. The children squeal with excitement. The grandmother then says his parents will be visiting him on his birthday. He smiles again. I go back to the table as the home study forms are being passed between me and the grandmother and then it happens. Such an unexpected and spontaneous gesture. A hug. The five year old walks over to my side, slips his arm around my neck with his head barely touching mine. I felt it was like he knew I was there to help him and his brother remain in this safe, loving home. A loving home where he is given permission to miss and love his parents. A home where turning 6 is the biggest deal in the world. A hug so sweet and gentle. He didn’t know how good he made me feel. He didn’t know how this simple hug gave me affirmation that we do make a difference in children’s lives.

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AUDACITY, COURAGE, RESILIENCE

Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan, Audio Visual Specialist

As the videographer for Harmony’s In My Own Words video project, I found these three attributes where I had least expected – in kids who had suffered more trauma in their young lives than most adults can even comprehend.

Harmony developed the video project to allow children in the state welfare system – who are longing for a “real” family – to tell their own stories themselves. The videos, which are posted on the Parent a Child website, are intended to serve as each child’s introduction to prospective families.

I was not sure what to expect. How would kids who had been powerless – with no control over the traumatic events of their lives- respond to the challenge of telling their own stories?

This is what I found: The heroic spirit of the child who shared his story with painful honesty – his mother had simply walked away from him – leaving the 3-year old child abandoned at a grocery store.

The child who is now classified as “special needs” because as a toddler he was severely beaten – who just wanted a hug from me before beginning his story.

All the children I have helped with their videos have one thing in common: trust and a willingness to share their stories, despite lives that have been filled with betrayal.

That’s what keeps me going – the courage and resilience shown by these kids and their willingness to share the harrowing events of their young lives.

And when children I have filmed find forever families thanks to their videos, I know it’s all worthwhile.

You can view In My Own Words videos here: PARENTACHILD.ORG.

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LIFE IS A JOURNEY, NOT A DESTINATION

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

There must be hundreds of quotations about life being a journey that we should appreciate, because the journey is what’s really important after all. My favorite comes from my buddy Bart Simpson. Setting out on a road trip, Marge and Homer are barely out of the driveway when the kids begin asking: are we there yet?

Harmony’s decision to purchase and renovate Montvale has taught us a lot about patience and enjoying the journey. Has it happened as quickly as we have wanted? No. Are things unfolding differently than we originally thought? Absolutely! Yet I cannot help but be filled with hope and anticipation as I see the progress at Montvale. Are we there yet? No. But it’s an exciting journey.

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DESTINY

Tina Graves

Tina Graves, FOCUS Regional Case Consultant

Networking is such an important part of the job we do at Harmony. On any given day we meet and connect with many different people, and every day we have the opportunity to open doors for the children we serve. This was never as apparent to me as on a beautiful fall day when I attended an event at Montvale for adoptive children and their families.

The families were invited to the Family Center at Montvale to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful surroundings, lunch, and fellowship. Since I work in a different area of the state, many of the faces were new to me. At lunchtime I walked outside thinking to myself, who will I eat with? As I looked around most of my colleagues were visiting with other people, so I chose to sit down with a family I hadn’t met and began a conversation with the mother. She and I discussed her family and how they all had been brought together. My interest was piqued when the mother described attachment issues their family was dealing with, because I had been trying to find an adoptive family for one of my FOCUS clients, a young girl who was facing very similar issues.

When I told her a little about this young girl she explained that her oldest daughter was really interested in adopting and suggested I give her a call. I replied that visits would be difficult, because this child was in the Middle Tennessee area. The mother looked at me and smiled as she explained that her daughter lives in Lebanon, which is in Middle Tennessee. We exchanged phone numbers, and she said she would give me a call. The next morning her daughter called me all excited asking about the child.

A whirlwind of things began to happen. The daughter and her husband started the required PATH training (Parents As Tender Healers); their home study was approved; the couple and child met – and ultimately the youngster was adopted. The new acquaintance I had met over a hotdog is now my client’s grandmother! Funny how it seems things are just supposed to happen. Had I chosen to sit at a different table, this child would have never found her forever family – it must have been destiny!

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IT TAKES TIME TO SPRAWL

Michael Yates

Michael Yates, Project Director for State Contracts including ASAP, FOCUS, PATH and Home Study

When I was a child, my mother told me a tree sleeps during its first year after being planted. In its second year, she continued, it will creep, and by the third year it will begin to crawl. Then, by the fourth year it will finally sprawl. It was her way of reassuring me that nature does things in its own time, and though I was eager for a towering tree in which to build a tree house, only time and patience would allow the transplanted sapling from the nursery to become what it was always intended to be: a large, beautiful maple tree.

A Forestry Leaflet from Clemson University reports that up to 50% or more transplanted trees do not survive beyond two years. Lord knows many a young sapling have died at my unskilled hand. But why so long before the sapling takes off and sprawls upward? In the field of forestry, they call it transplant shock. Interestingly, the shock happens below the surface where the roots suffer tremendous loss when dug at the nursery. The shock lasts until a natural balance between the root system and the crown of the transplanted tree is restored. Good soil, consistent care, and time are critical elements to the repair and restoration of a tree’s root system and the balance required for a tree to sprawl.

There’s a nice lesson here, I think.

For those of us working in the public child-wellbeing system, we see a lot of children who are subject to their own form of transplant shock. They experience tremendous loss with each and every move. They, too, require a lot care, support, and time to restore and repair their own roots. Children receive this through placement in a safe, loving home: through therapeutic interventions and treatments that really get to the heart of addressing complex trauma, through resiliency building efforts that support the child holistically, and through a family’s steadfast commitment and unending patience. In a way, trees can teach us a lot about what is required for successful transitioning.

The lesson reaches far beyond children. Think of the hard, traumatic transitions you may have lived through: divorce, loss of job, debilitating illness, loss of home, unexpected death, and so on. How long did it take for you to feel strong enough to sprawl following a major transition that tore at your roots? I suspect you too required a lot of care, support, and time to restore and repair your own roots following such a significant loss.

As public child-wellbeing professionals, we’d be wise to help a child’s support system understand that human development, much like a tree, may require deep root repair and restoration, before we see the outward manifestation of who the child is intended to be … wholly wonderful, capable, and loveable. So don’t be surprised when a child’s growth seems to sleep, creep, and crawl long before he or she is ready to sprawl.

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NEWTON’S LAW OF INERTIA

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

Last night my husband and I went on our annual pilgrimage to the open house at our daughter’s school. I liked all of the teachers. The science classroom was my favorite; I have always liked science. One poster caught my eye: Newton’s Laws. One thing specifically stood out: “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force,” Newton’s Law of Inertia. Reading the poster, I could not help thinking about something that happened to me recently.

Two weeks ago my husband and I were presented with a wonderful opportunity to stay at our friends’ vacation home for a long weekend. The home is a block away from the beach. Despite the fact that they rent out their home, our stay would be free. Most people when presented with an opportunity for a free weekend beach trip would jump at the chance. Not me. I came up with lots of problems and roadblocks: “I just took off from work a couple of weeks ago. There is a lot going on at work. What if we cannot get approval from the principal to take a discretionary day? School just started. What about the money?” I came up with several lame (in hind sight) reasons for why this spur-of-the moment beach trip was not a good idea.

I am thankful that my husband is smart and knows all about physics. He persisted and became that “unbalancing force” to push past my resistance. We went to the beach and had a great time despite all of my good reasons for not going.

I remember Lenna Allen, one of Harmony’s ASAP therapists, telling me that according to an article she had read, as parents we have 940 Saturdays to spend with our kids from the time that they are born until they leave the nest. I am so thankful that our family, resisting the Law of Inertia, spent one of those precious Saturdays together.

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WATCH D.O.G.S. (DADS OF GREAT STUDENTS)

Eric Rice

Eric Rice, Montvale Events Coordinator

Watch D.O.G.S. is a Father Involvement Initiative of the National Center for Fathering (NCF). The program began in 1998 by Jim Moore in response to a tragic school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Noting the relative absence of fathers in his own son’s school, Moore began recruiting men and challenging them to become more involved in the school. Today, more than 1,500 schools and 65,000 men are reconnecting with their kids, keeping schools safe, and supporting the work of school teachers and administrators through Watch D.O.G.S.

After researching the program for some time as a way to be more involved with my own kids, I introduced the program to Principal Amy Vagnier at Foothills Elementary School in Maryville, Tennessee. She, along with school administrators Tammy Hooper and Kara Buckner, began putting in place plans to launch Watch D.O.G.S. at Foothills. On January 12, 2010 the school hosted its first annual Dads and Kids Pizza Night to kick off the program. More than 500 people, including 200 dads, were in attendance to hear about Watch D.O.G.S. Fathers and father figures were challenged to take an active role in the lives of their kids, specifically in their education. Dads were asked to commit to spending at least one full day in the school per school year, and almost four years later 150-200 dads did just that.

Fathers and father figures (grandfathers, adult brothers, uncles, etc.) show up for their “Dog Day” early in the morning wearing their Watch D.O.G.S. t-shirts. They receive a specific schedule and spend time in their own kids’ classrooms as well as other areas needing assistance, such as helping with playground duty, the lunchroom, “specials” (Music, Art, P.E., Library), and small reading groups. They also help with arrival and dismissal, patrolling the hallways and periodically walking the perimeter of the school. Dads are the kings of the playground, the heroes of the hallways, and completely exhausted when the dismissal bell rings. The dads have thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and the faculty and students have also responded positively to the new Watch D.O.G.S. presence. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Watch D.O.G.S. dad at Foothills, and I am proud knowing we are leaving a legacy of involved fathers and father figures. My favorite moment during my time with the program was when I was sitting in the hallway, reading with a group of kids, when a 2nd grade girl said, “I’m glad you’re here. I don’t have a dad.” It wasn’t said sadly or pitifully, but it highlighted for me the importance of a male presence in a child’s life. I will always remember that moment.

Since implementing Watch D.O.G.S., 89% of participating schools have found the program to be a valuable component of their efforts to promote a safe and positive learning environment, and 79% have noted an increase of father involvement in other aspects of their school, such as parent/teacher conferences, volunteerism, and PTA/PTO involvement. You can visit the NCF website, www.fathers.com, to learn more about the Watch D.O.G.S. program, the effect an involved father can have on his kids, and to find ideas about how to become more involved in your kids’ lives.

Program Recognition

In its relatively short history, WATCH D.O.G.S.® has proven to be influential and effective in a number of venues:

  • Involved in the U.S. Department of Education Father Involvement In Education Project beginning in 2005.
  • Invited by the National PTA to be a founding member of the MORE Alliance (Men Organized to Raise Engagement).
  • Recognized on the floor of Congress as a program that “can be a great tool in our efforts to prevent school violence and to improve student performance because it can increase parental initiative and involvement in their children’s education.” Congressional Record, Feb. 7, 2000, page S-392.
  • Involved in the U.S. Department of Education’s P.F.I.E. (Partnership For Family Involvement In Education).
  • In 1999, invited by the United States Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to participate in a nationwide teleconference called “Fathers Matter.”
  • Recognized as a “best practice” by Joyce L. Epstein, Ph.D., Director of Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University.
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