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Parent Empowerment Program (PEP)

The nine-month Parent Empowerment Program (PEP) transforms parents’ outlooks and restocks their toolkit. Led by Bob Sornson, Ph.D., a national presenter and author on early childhood issues, the classes are held in Inkster at Starfish Family Services, where a warm staff, a hot breakfast and top-notch childcare create a great environment to learn. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Program Manager of the Parent Empowerment Program at Starfish Family Services Noreen Green: It’s a combination of things. I definitely think it’s Dr. Bob Sornson because he’s very charismatic, draws the parents in, and has a lot of relatable facts. He’s very real with them too. He teaches from the basics, but it’s things that parents weren’t aware of or maybe were aware of but weren’t practicing at home. A lot of the comments that we get back from parents are things like, “I thought I didn’t need parenting, but the first five minutes I was here, I knew I needed it.” It’s the way he goes about teaching, going from the basics and how he draws them in.
It’s also the staff. We are very warm and welcoming. The program runs on a Saturday morning, once a month, and who wants
A lot of the comments that we get back from parents are things like, �I thought I didn�t need parenting, but the first five minutes I was here, I knew I needed it.�
to get up on a Saturday morning? But we had 283 participants that attended at least one Saturday morning, with 60 parents attending all eight to nine sessions. We serve a hot breakfast. The children are in childcare, and it’s not just childcare. We have a High Scope certified teacher that helps to plan the lessons, so the kids are well taken care of.
The parents come to the group to learn, but they’re also networking. They form support groups with people they can relate to. Dr. Bob always does a review of the session before and has the parents talk about it among themselves with the new relationships that they’ve formed. The parents often comment on the friendships they’ve developed over the nine months.
What was the best lesson learned for this program in the past year?
One of the best lessons has to do with service integration. When we look at that as an agency, we always ask if parents are a part of cross-programming. But what I saw with the Parent Empowerment Program (PEP) this year is that service integration is also with the staff. We had people from all of our programs and service areas. We had IT, we had property, we had administration, we had executive staff represented on Saturdays. They then became good stewards of the program, and felt more a part of Starfish as a whole through PEP. So it was a best lesson that service integration doesn’t just start with the parents, it also starts with the staff.
It’s also the warmth that the parents need to feel when they come in on a Saturday morning. It starts with the staff. It’s almost like a pep rally. The staff and parents feel like they’re part of a team.
What was the hardest lesson learned for this program in the past year?
After taking more of a leadership role with the program, I started looking closely at the details of what parents really needed, what they indicated on their evaluations because we did evaluations after each session. We hadn’t been looking through all the evaluations that the parents did carefully, and they would indicate certain things. Once I started reviewing these more closely, if there were things I could do within reason to accommodate them or to meet their needs, I made sure it happened.
...parents are inspired by learning different nuances about parenting � and getting away from their old habits and things that they learned from their generation and from their own parents.
What really differentiates this program?
I think it starts with our presenter. Dr. Sornson is a well-renowned speaker, trainer and presenter and he has a great knowledge of early childhood education and learning. He is one of the co-founders or authors of the Love and Logic model. He draws parents in. He walks around the audience talking to parents individually. They wanted more one-on-one time with Dr. Bob to learn more from him.
Also, one of the things we did this year is we incentivized the program. If parents had good attendance, they were able to get points and at the last session they were able to redeem those points for certain prizes, like books that Dr. Bob authored. Parents really looked forward to that. Dr. Bob was the biggest draw, but it was also the staff, what we had to offer, and making it a fun Saturday morning. When it ended this spring, the parents asked, “We can’t keep doing this all summer?”
What are the keys to success for your program?
Based on the goals that we’ve written for the program, the key is for the parents to come on a regular basis. And also telling someone else that they know. We’ve incentivized that too. You’re here, don’t keep this a secret, share it with someone else.
What are the parents in your program most inspired by?
Because the lessons he is teaching cover parenting children between two and 10 years of age, parents are inspired by learning different nuances about parenting – and getting away from their old habits and things that they learned from their generation and from their own parents. It’s also the friendships that they build and the relationships with other parents.
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  • Ann Kalass
    Supporting young kids and their parents



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