Online Training - We Can!® Energize Our Families: Parent Program
Chapter 8: Implementing the Parent Program
Welcome to Chapter 8—Implementing the Parent Program. Now that you’ve completed the chapters on the four sessions, we’ll go over some tips and real-world examples that the We Can! community sites have shared with us to help you in developing your program.
Once you’ve decided to implement the Parent Program in your community, there are a few essential elements you’ll want to consider to help make it successful. We’ve grouped them under the following headings:
- Recruitment, and
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The importance of the Parent Program leader being a good facilitator cannot be overstated. There are a few qualities that you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing someone to facilitate the sessions.
The facilitator should:
- Have excellent listening skills,
- Be skilled at engaging parents in discussion,
- Be empathetic and caring,
- Be supportive of participants’ needs and encouraging of efforts, and
- Be nonjudgmental.
The Martin County Health Department in Stuart, Florida, engaged nursing students from nearby Florida Atlantic University to lead Parent Programs at local teen-parent centers. The nursing students had great ideas for new and fun ways to deliver the program, and were able to connect with the young parents at these centers.
The facilitator also needs to be culturally sensitive and knowledgeable. Depending on your community, it may be a good idea to select a facilitator who shares a similar cultural background to your participants, or can speak the language of the participants.
If you work with Spanish-speaking communities, you may want to use the parent tip sheets, Parent Handbook, and PowerPoint slides that are available in Spanish for the Parent Program. These are available, in part, due to the efforts of We Can! community sites in Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. Visit “Recursos en español” on the We Can! website for information on accessing these resources.
The We Can! Community Site at the University of San Diego holds frequent Parent Programs with Spanish-speaking participants. They’ve recruited a former participant to build their pool of Spanish-speaking facilitators, and to co-lead a program at a local elementary school. Keep an eye out for participants who could make good facilitators or mentors to parents in future programs.
When planning the sessions, think carefully about how to best engage the parents in your program. Here are some important points to keep in mind:
- Aim to empower parents. As parents complete the four sessions, your goal is to have them feel more prepared to solve problems on their own, think creatively, and access reliable resources about healthy eating and physical activity. Your role is to support parents in becoming knowledgeable and empowered to make changes in their families’ lives.
- Provide opportunities for parents to support each other. Throughout the sessions, there are exercises where participants are asked to share both successes and challenges. Try turning these into opportunities for parents to support and motivate each other, as well as to form relationships with each other.
What parents do really matters. It’s critical that parents recognize they are their children’s role models. Remind parents of the power of modeling healthy behaviors and their huge responsibility to create an environment that supports healthy eating and increased physical activity for their children.
Encourage parents to take it slowly. Reinforce the point that parents should try to avoid drastic changes. The best way for them to achieve success with the We Can! program will be to guide their families towards healthy eating and increased physical activity one step at a time.
In Lexington, Kentucky, the Tweens Fitness Coalition reminds us to “Honor the Belly Flops.” We Can! is not about parents being perfect, it’s about parents being real. If you encourage parents to share their challenges with the group, you’re more likely to see them offering suggestions and supporting each other.
This perspective helped parents in one group rally around a discouraged peer who had a hard time keeping her children from overeating Halloween candy. Parents in the group were able to identify with this common challenge. They recommended practical ideas and tips that had worked in their own households.
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The next set of tips focus on helping you successfully schedule your Parent Program.
When you design the Parent Program for your community, there are some issues you’ll want to keep in mind when selecting a location, scheduling the days and times of sessions, determining the length of sessions, and addressing the childcare needs of parents.
Choosing the right location for the Parent Program is something you’ll have to consider. It’s easier if you can find a place where parents naturally convene, such as a library, place of worship, or worksite. You’ll have to confirm the place is available at the times you need it. Other than a location that’s easily accessible for participants, the We Can! Parent Program does not have prerequisites for the location, nor does it require fancy equipment or any particular type of room. Most of the time, participants will be engaged in discussions, small group activities, or food demonstrations that don’t require a stove or refrigerator.
When you evaluate your meeting space, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the space large enough to accommodate the session activities, including stretch breaks, comfortably?
- Is the atmosphere right?
- Is the noise level acceptable?
- Is the lighting appropriate?
- Is the temperature comfortable? And,
- Can you arrange the tables, chairs, and audiovisual equipment to maximize interaction and participation?
The recommended length for each We Can! Parent Program session is 90 minutes. In addition, the Leader’s Guide offers suggested times for each of the activities and discussions included in each session.
Depending on the size and mix of your group, you may need more or less time for each of the various activities. You’ll have to keep an eye on the time and be prepared to make ad hoc decisions about places to cut time or expand upon various activities, based on your group’s interest. Depending on the mix, you may find that participants need extra time to fully understand a topic, or that they have a lot of questions and comments about an issue. Flexibility on the part of the leader is necessary, so that enough time can be set aside to complete the activities.
Above all, consider our timing suggestions in the Leader’s Guide to be just that—suggestions. What’s most important here is that the leader adapt the length of activities to suit the needs and interests of the participants.
Having a great program isn’t enough if it’s not convenient for participants to attend. You’ll need to find a schedule that works well for both you and your participants—and that can sometimes be a challenge.
The following issues are important to consider when scheduling, and can help you decide whether you’ll need to deliver sessions in segments, or in their entirety:
- Do potential participants have regular school, community, or family commitments that could interfere with your schedule?
- Are there cultural or religious reasons for not choosing a particular day?
- When are appropriate facilities available? And,
- Would it be helpful to consider worksite “lunch and learns” as potential times for your Parent Program?
If you can, it’s a great idea to build in time to survey parents and gather information on dates, times, and the frequency with which they are willing to meet.
In South Bend, Indiana, a We Can! City, leaders offered the Parent Program to city employees as a “Lunch and Learn” series held on-site in their office building. Each session featured a guest speaker from a local partner organization, such as a chef from the South Bend Chefs and Cooks Association who demonstrated a healthy alternative to making a cream sauce for pasta. This strategy for offering the program proved to be both convenient and delicious!
The New Beginning Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee, received a great response from parents and grandparent caregivers by offering a Parent Program that combines all four sessions into one evening event. This faith-based organization facilitated the complete Parent Program during a Saturday evening event that combined the sessions with brief exercises and door prizes during breaks. They found that parents and caregivers in their community were more willing to spend several hours in one sitting than commit to four different occasions.
Another important issue to consider is your ability to offer childcare. This could help reduce a major barrier faced by many parents who may otherwise want to attend your program.
If you are able to arrange childcare at the same site as your Parent Program, consider making it a family affair. While you will want to spend your time primarily with parents, you may want to do an activity that include their children.
In Eugene, Oregon, the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth, a We Can! Founding Intensive Site, structures their Parent Programs to fit in family snack breaks. Parents and children enjoy healthy snacks that are prepared by parents during the sessions, giving them an opportunity to practice eating well, right on the spot.
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As part of your planning, it’s important to get the word out in your community about the benefits of the We Can! Parent Program. This set of tips deals with recruiting participants to the Parent Program.
Depending upon your community, you may need to first work on awareness and education around the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. Once you have built awareness, you will have an easier time attracting the attention of parents to your program.
Fort Wayne Parkview Hospital, a We Can! General Community Site in Fort Wayne, Indiana, seized the opportunity offered by the Fort—4—Fitness Health Festival to introduce their Parent Program and recruit parents. Parkview Hospital set up a booth with the We Can! banner and materials, including brochures and materials for parents. The booth provided attendees with a preview of the We Can! programming for parents and youth that Parkview helped launch a couple of weeks later.
Let’s focus on some strategies for recruiting parents in your community.
- Reach parents through the places they regularly go to, such as schools, PTAs, community centers, faith-based organizations, health centers, and places where they pick up children from afterschool or other community programs.
- Incorporate promotional or registration information for your program into outgoing voicemail messages, e-mail signatures, listserv messages, and other virtual locations.
Organizers of We Can! in Carson City, Nevada, work with partners to promote their programs, such as the Community Council on Youth, which regularly features their We Can! events, programs, and tips in an online “eZine,” distributed monthly to parents and youth.
It helps if you can identify a well-respected community leader or local celebrity who could disseminate information about the program and encourage participation.
Invite past participants to be We Can! ambassadors to recruit friends, neighbors, and coworkers to future Parent Programs. Word of mouth is an easy and effective way to promote your program to potential participants.
Recruitment of busy parents is one of the most challenging parts of running a Parent Program. Be creative about the types of promotional materials and key messages you use. Look for interesting and attention-grabbing ways to tell parents about your program. Think outside the box when you’re deciding where to place your promotion.
Some of the steps you can take are to create an exciting promotional flyer, e-mail message, and Web page, being sure to include the date, location, time, and your contact information. If you need ideas or help, you can find We Can! logos, guidance for using these logos, and other resources for promoting your program on the We Can! website.
You can also work with your local newspapers, TV, and radio stations to post information about your upcoming program. Consider featuring a family to talk about the positive changes they made by attending the We Can! Parent Program. To help you work with the media, the We Can! website and Energize Our Community: Toolkit for Action offers prewritten articles and scripts suitable for radio, television, and print that you may offer to your local media.
Incentives are not always necessary because of the inherent value of the program. But, it is a nice touch to encourage behaviors you are promoting. As an example, prizes for attending all four sessions can help with participant retention through the entire program.
Before you commit to providing an incentive, try to get feedback as to how incentives might impact parents’ decision to participate, and plan accordingly. For example, if you are offering a substantial incentive, such as memberships to a fitness center, then asking parents to attend four to six sessions might work. If you are not offering incentives, consider taking note of retention rates when you are halfway through your sessions, and decide then whether it might be helpful to offer incentives to encourage attendance for the full four- or six-session program.
If you do decide to offer incentives, consider prizes that reinforce the behaviors you are promoting, such as healthy meals, free access to swimming pools and recreational facilities, or cooking lessons. Household items such as cookbooks, measuring cups, apple slicers, and cutting boards have also been popular items at other We Can! sites.
Consider offering items for youth, such as Frisbees, that will also appeal to parents during recruitment and that reflect the nutritional and physical activity tenets of the program.
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This last section offers you tips for forming partnerships.
As you plan your program, it will be important to think about forming partnerships. Every community possesses a unique richness of resources in which to find potential We Can! partners. Partners can offer invaluable support on many levels and can bring things to the process that you would not be able to bring on your own. They can be powerful extensions of your network and allow things to happen more efficiently than with just one agency working on its own. And, adding their logos and graphics to your promotional materials can add cachet and credibility to your program.
You will need to identify your different needs and think about which potential partners could help with those needs. Consider teaming up with one or more community partners that share a common interest in your mission, values, and vision. Think of organizations or groups you might not have been involved with previously, as well as those that you may already be working with on other programs.
When considering potential partnerships, be sure to try reaching out to the following kinds of groups or organizations:
- Public departments and agencies, including health departments, school districts, policy departments, and fire departments;
- Health-related organizations and associated professionals, such as hospitals, emergency services, and visiting nurses;
- Nonprofit agencies, such as YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts;
- Faith-based organizations;
- Private sector groups, such as grocery stores, museums, sporting goods stores, and fitness centers; and
- Neighborhood groups, libraries, recreation centers, community centers, and local PTAs.
You may also want to invite members of the local media to become partners with your We Can! program. Local TV and radio stations, as well as newspapers, often adopt special causes to show their support for the community.
In the We Can! City of South Bend, Indiana, program leaders from the South Bend Parks and Recreation Department took their show on the road and presented We Can! to potential partners around the city. They started their partner search with organizations that shared their mission. They motivated them with the vision of getting involved in something exciting and important, as well as with opportunities for recognition in the media. Their efforts resulted in a variety of long-term partnerships with organizations such as the Purdue University Extension office, the Memorial Hospital, the O’Brien Fitness Center, and the South Bend Chefs and Cooks Association.
Having a clear sense of your needs will help you determine which partners to pursue and the kinds of value they can bring to your program. Here are some ways partnerships can help:
- Reaching particular groups of parents; for example, members of a partner organization like the YMCA or school PTA,
- Cosponsoring an individual session or full four-session Parent Program,
- Offering staff who can facilitate the sessions or provide childcare, outreach, and recruitment expertise, and
- Providing logistical support such as space to hold classes or provision of snacks, meals, and incentives.
In Eugene, Oregon, the Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth partnered with a local swimming facility that offered free swimming for children while their parents participated in the Parent Program in another part of the facility.
This not only helped remove the barrier of having to find childcare, but also gave children a chance to participate in fun, physical activity.
Don’t forget to consider We Can! national and corporate partners, local affiliates, and supporting organizations. For more information about partnerships, go to the link on your screen.
Once you know what areas you might want to collaborate on with a partner, a good way to keep the relationship on track is to develop a structured plan. The We Can! Energize Our Community: Toolkit for Action contains a template for a partnership plan that you can use. It includes key items such as the overall purpose, major activities, and outcomes of the partnership. This type of partnership plan enables all participants to agree on the specifics of the project, including roles and responsibilities. How formal the plan should be depends on the size of the cooperative effort and the needs of your organization and its partners.
You can find additional resources to help you brainstorm ideas in terms of program facilitation, scheduling, recruitment, and partnerships in the Toolkit. More information on the this resource is available in Chapter 9.
Keep in mind that, in addition to helping parents and caregivers, leading the We Can! Parent Program can be good for the leader too! After facilitating the Parent Program, leaders may find themselves:
- Eating better,
- Moving more,
- Communicating better, and
- Parenting better.
You may actually feel better overall once you complete your training course for We Can!. We certainly hope so.