STAMFORD, Conn. -- The St. Joseph Parenting Center in Stamford offers free parent education classes in Spanish and English to families at risk of child neglect and child abuse.
Its motto, “Educate the Parent, Protect the Child” describes exactly what this center does for families in the area who need assistance.
“SJPC is a great resource available to anyone with a child up to the age of 12 and it would be great to let people in our community know this resource exists. “ said Jeanette Christian, a volunteer at SJPC, which is located on the second floor at 566 Elm St.
Measi O’Rourke, the Executive Director of the center, was born in Ireland and was raised in White Plains. She is married and resides in Ridgefield. As a registered nurse, she worked for several years in the maternal child care areas of nursing, then took 10 years off to raise her five children. The combination of her education and parenting, plus her volunteer work with children in her church, is what attracted O’Rourke to SJPC.
“I’m passionate about children being treated properly,’’ O’Rouke said. “The goal is to really be there in a long term relationship with these parents so they have the support to get them through and hopes of not abusing and neglecting their children."
SJPC opened its doors in 2010 with the help of individual donors. Since then, they now rely on fundraising, grant writing, family foundations, individual donors plus some funding from the government to run the center. SJPC has a staff but they also have over 200 volunteers, many of whom are educators with teaching credentials.
Some of these teachers are trained using parenting programs that SJPC purchases. Others are volunteers who are already specialized, such as therapists and social workers. The center also outsources all the community resources in Stamford and the surrounding areas such as DVCC (Domestic Violence Crisis Center), police and fire departments depending on the topic.
“It’s a very small commitment from these teachers but they come in with such value,” O’Rourke said. There are also volunteers who don’t need credentials. “They just have to be willing to provide a meal, run a kitchen or do administrative work”. said O’Rourke. “They are just as important."
The engagement and interaction with the parents is the favorite part of O’Rourke’s job. Because they are an education and resource center and not clinically based or part of the state, they have found that they are a "safe haven" for these parents.
“We are here to empower them to become the best moms and dads,’’ O’Rourke said. “In a very non judgemental way, get the message across that we believe in you, we know you can do this. It’s very rewarding to see these parents, that very often no one has told them that they believe in them for us to be able to say you can do it, we’re rooting for you.”
O’Rourke says most parents want to be good moms and dads and through the SJPC, they can learn how to be just that.
Robyn Blosio Bova is a Stamford native and a Realtor for Higgins Group.