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Parent Cafe serves up advice for Lodi families

Program helps low-income residents tackle parenting issues, safety for their children

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 12:00 am

Several parents and guardians of young children filled two picnic tables at Lodi’s Hale Park to discuss parenting issues during a weekly program called Parent Cafe.

Last week, two officials from the Child Abuse Prevention Council of San Joaquin County who run the program at Hale Park asked parents and caregivers to tackle three questions: When you spend time with your child or teen, what do you do together? What is your child’s greatest gift or talent? How do you encourage these talents (such as a high-five or a hug)?

The Parent Cafe program is designed to help parents tackle these and other issues, to show children that they are valued and to prevent child abuse and neglect, bullying and gang recruitment, according to Shauna Buzunis-Jacob, community outreach director for the Child Abuse Prevention Council.

Angela McGee and Cynthia Andrade, who run the Hale Park program for the Child Abuse Prevention Council, led the discussion, with Andrade serving as a translator for the predominately Spanish-speaking parents. The program takes place in the early evening, while their children use the playground equipment at Hale Park. Some 14 parents a week participate.

Before the weekly session, Parent Cafe participants enjoyed dinner through the “Care Lodi” organization run by various churches that alternate dinner preparation. Last week’s meal was prepared by Temple Baptist Church.

“There are so many people in Lodi who want to help, and so many people who need help,” said Andrew Manies, children’s pastor at Lodi’s First Baptist Church, who helps run the Care Lodi program.

McGee and Andrade go to different parts of the county to set up Parent Cafe, with the Hale Park program beginning on June 6. Thursday was the final session, though they hope parents will continue to meet on their own.

From January to mid-May, there was a weekly Parent Cafe session at Joe Serna Jr. Charter School on South Central Avenue. In addition, county officials hope to start a new group in January 2014 at Lawrence Elementary School, also in Lodi’s Eastside.

“I think it’s best wanting to help the needs of our community, and I think it means going outside the walls of our church,” said Glen Barnes, associate pastor at First Baptist Church.

Monica Cabeitu, who has two children, said she discovered Parent Cafe after seeing a bunch of children playing at Hale Park. She’s found the adult component to be quite helpful. As a three-year Lodi resident, Cabeitu said she didn’t know what services were available for low-income residents like herself.

Many Eastside families are new to the country and speak little English. Therefore, some of them enter the country unaware of the American way of life and what services are available to help them.

Parents learned about the Lodi Salvation Army, Lodi House, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, the Lodi Boys and Girls Club and the Stockton YMCA, including the services they provide low-income residents.

One mother who participated in the program at Joe Serna School didn’t know what time her child was to show up at school, Buzunis-Jacob said. She didn’t know that her child was continually late for school until a school official asked her about it. The mother didn’t have the courage to go to the school and ask questions on her child’s behalf, Buzunis-Jacob said.

The issue was addressed by the Parent Cafe at Serna.

Eastside residents also received parenting help during the spring through a separate program called “Mom and Pop,” run by the county’s First 5 program. First 5 was approved by voters in 1998. It added a 50-cent tax to each pack of cigarettes to provide health, education and social services for children up to age 5.

While students from Jim Elliot Christian High School baby-sat children during the Mom and Pop program, parents learned about healthy eating, exercising and the importance of preschool during sessions at Salem United Methodist Church.

Portions of the First 5 program includes a religious component, so parents were exposed to Christianity in addition to parenting advice in the Mom and Pop program. Religion is not a component of Parent Cafe.

Another Lodi Cares project in the works will be held after school beginning in August at Salem United Methodist Church. Barnes and Jake McGregor, executive director of the One Eighty Teen Center, will lead a group consisting of churches, Lodi police and other groups to help families on the Eastside.

A couple of church missionaries will live near the Salem church at East Elm Street and North Central Avenue to establish positive relationships with nearby residents, Buzunis-Jacob said.

“The idea is gang reduction by strengthening families,” she said.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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