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It Takes a Village in the San Fernando Valley

Posted By Karen Young On July 15, 2009 @ 11:22 pm In News,Stories | 2 Comments

tarice110BY TARICE L.S. GRAY

There is an old African proverb that claims: It takes a whole village to raise a child.

The idea of raising a child  proposes that a child should be nurtured, taught, and groomed to be a well adjusted person. In the long run, the village expects that child to be an excellent addition to the community.

But that takes work, and parents don’t always have the time and tools to get the job done.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately 200,000 residents under the age of 16 in the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, the recession has made child rearing even more challenging. That’s where the villagers step in.

Jennifer "Jenny" Smith, president Family Promises

Jennifer "Jenny" Smith, president Family Promise Board of Directors

One such organization that helps is Family Promise. It’s new to the San Fernando Valley, but has a national legacy that spans over two decades. A faith-based venture that brings congregations together in support of families in need, they set up day care facilities, tutoring, and temporary housing for families who are looking for a way to bounce back.

Jennifer “Jenny” Smith, President of the Family Promise Board of Directors, believes the organization can bring stability to families. “We hope that we can bring some love to families, so that they don’t feel like they’re forgotten or pushed aside by the rest of society,” says Smith.

Family Promise creates temporary living quarters in churches and temples, give the family meals and offers the parents tools to look for employment and housing, all the while helping to nurture the children.

Society as a whole isn’t always accommodating to those with a child, needy or not. Although homelessness is an extreme case, managing a play-dates while working 60 hours a week, and enduring a commute that seems eternal, can make the average parent feel as if they too are swimming up stream. Again that’s where the villagers step in.

Places like Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and ONEgeneration in Van Nuys offer village support to whomever needs it.  Rabbi Sarah Hronsky of  Temple Beth Hillel believes in the commitment to the proverb ‘it takes a village.’

“Personally the more folks are around is often helpful for families because of where we are in our economic climate,” said Rabbi Hronsky.

Although the recession continues to take a toll on the general community,  Temple Beth Hillel remains dedicated to a number of programs and services for children, ranging from religious activities to Boy Scouts. The Temple doesn’t believe in placing borders on its village. Their outreach goes beyond religion, culture and crosses geographical boundaries.

One Generation

At One Generation young and old play side by side.

According to Rabbi Hronsky, the youth group was instrumental in reaching out to Darfur. Older children at the Temple made videos for kids in the war torn region.

“It couldn’t be a simpler thing,” explained Hronsky, “but they’re learning that there are others out there who have less than them.” The group also reached out to bomb victims in Israel. That compassion is a trait villagers value.

Like Temple Beth Hillel, ONEgeneration in Van Nuys is constructing an inclusive village of its own. The inter-generational organization offers senior services, child care and programs for at-risk teens.

Development Officer Bria Verdugo-Uy witnessed the benefits of a inter-generational nurturing environment personally. Her son attended the center when he was not quite two years old. He participated with the kids and seniors who share their day constructing arts and crafts together, getting together for nature walks and even baking.

The interaction had an incredible impact.

Verdugo-Uy said, “We went to dinner one night and [my son] was sitting in his high chair and this elderly woman came in with a walker, and he actually turned around to her and said ‘hi’. Her face just lit up, because she was so amazed that this little baby basically was saying ‘hello’ to her when everyone else just turned away.”

ONEgeneration, while establishing its village, is likewise developing a mindset that everyone within the village, local and beyond, is to be respected. It seems to be working. In 2004, ONEgeneration participated in a national study conducted by Dr. Steven Zarit at Penn State University. The preliminary results revealed children exposed to inter-generational care are less likely to show bias against older people.

Judy Hamilton-Cantu, Senior Director of ONEgeneration, believes in the benefits of multi-generational, multi-cultural care. She said the children who were exposed to that, “were able to wait longer for things. Because they somehow picked up some patience working with a population that doesn’t do things as quickly.”

One thing these village focused organizations understand is child rearing doesn’t happen quickly. It is a process. One to which Family Promise, Temple Beth Hillel, and ONEgeneration are committed.

Despite only having seven of thirteen needed congregations on board, Smith is optimistic that the Family Promise San Fernando Valley chapter will be in full operation this fall.

In the meantime, Temple Beth Hillel and ONEgeneration are maintaining their focus on the family throughout the summer, offering day camps, and other programs that will surely help produce a new generation of valuable villagers.

Tarice L.S. Gray is a freelance writer/editor and former NPR journalist. She’s also an active member of the Writers’ Guild of America, West. Tarice’s blog site is Gray Current. Keep up with what’s current -  www.graycurrent.com

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