Order up advice at Lodi’s Parent Cafe - Lodinews.com: Lodi Living

Order up advice at Lodi’s Parent Cafe

By Kyla Cathey/Lodi Living Editor | Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 3:25 pm

On Wednesday morning, a group of eager learners gathered in a computer lab at George Washington Elementary School. But they weren’t the elementary school’s typical students — they were parents, there to take advantage of the Parent Cafe.

As a few of their younger children, not yet school age, played mostly quietly nearby and their mothers snacked on mandarin oranges and coffee, guest speaker Tivoli Walker shared information about Every Woman Counts. The organization provides free breast cancer and cervical cancer screening to women who meet age and income requirements.

In between PowerPoint slides, the women asked Walker questions and shared information with each other. One mother told the others how to check their breasts for lumps.

Another mother, Erika Zavala, asked for advice on how to talk to her daughter, who is nearing her teen years, about puberty.

Facilitators Shamari Lathan and Nancy Ponce offered ideas for getting more exercise.

“Bailan, bailan!” Lathan said, demonstrating with a few dance steps. The mothers laughed and clapped.

Parent Cafe is a program sponsored by the Child Abuse Prevention Council. The support group began in 2011 at a low-income apartment complex in Stockton. It was such a success that the CAPC began applying for grants to expand it in 2012.

Today, the program is held at 80 locations throughout San Joaquin County — including two in Lodi, the Washington group and one at Leroy Nichols School — and 1,500 families are involved. Each of the facilitators is also a parent.

The program’s mission is to give moms and dads a place to learn about parenting skills and exchange tips and advice. Topics range from stress management and building social networks to modeling positive behavior for their children, learning how to better communicate with kids and identifying quality family time activities.

The free, bilingual support groups are hosted in areas that demonstrate a need for parental support, said Angela MaGee, the program’s administrator with the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

That means in or near residential areas with high rates of poverty and crime. While child abuse is not limited to low-income families, studies have shown that stress factors like financial struggles, living in dangerous areas, lack of a support network and other factors can raise the risk.

Mothers and fathers who join the Parent Cafe groups aren’t abusers, but the Child Abuse Prevention Council wants to give them the tools to keep their families safe, healthy and happy. The goal is to cut off abuse long before it starts.

The groups do this by putting in place “protective factors” for parents and their families: resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, helping parents get to the root of children’s emotions and behavior, and building healthy parent-child relationships.

Facilitators guide parents through brainstorming ways to model good behavior for their children, and how to discipline bad behavior in a positive way. They share information about different parenting styles and various coping skills for dealing with stress and anger — dubbed parental resilience.

“The social connections are actually the biggest piece,” MaGee said.

Parents go through ice breakers and team-building exercises to form a strong social network with one another that will hopefully last beyond the 15-week program.

“Most of our groups ... once they’ve built those bonds and that friendship, (they) continue meeting,” MaGee said.

A few groups have asked to extend the Parent Cafe meetings. One group found that the members enjoyed knitting and crocheting or wanted to learn, so they’ve become a knitting circle. Another became a book club, and a third took up zumba together. Some have simply remained parent support groups, meeting regularly to share their kids' achievements and ask for advice when needed.

Because most of the parents who take advantage of the Parent Cafes come from low-income neighborhoods, guest speakers are invited to share information about community resources like Every Woman Counts, meant to help low-income residents of the county.

After Walker finished her presentation and answered the group’s questions on Wednesday, they took a break to share breakfast burritos.

Then, it was on to parenting information — specifically, differences between permissive, authoritarian and democratic parenting styles.

A few of the women said that they had trouble following their own parents’ examples because of how much the world has changed. Kids don’t go outside and play pretend anymore, one mom said. They’d rather stay inside and watch TV or play video games — they’re not creative.

But when the mothers were kids, Leticia Cervantes pointed out, they could play outside because they lived in tiny towns where everyone knew each other. Nowadays, it’s too dangerous for kids to be outside all the time, she said. It’s safer to keep them indoors.

A lively discussion ensued.

The mothers love the program. It’s a great way to focus their attention on making life better for their kids, Maria Escalante said.

It’s also helped her learn how to have more patience when things go wrong.

The class helped Ma de Jesus Espinosa overcome her fear of reaching out and communicating with others, she said.

“They help us and give us a lot of information,” she said. “I like the class a lot.”