The Lakewood Family Room: Community Families

You're a thirty-five-year-old lawyer. You gave birth to your first child one month ago. You are breast feeding, but your baby is having choking episodes. You're frustrated. Litigation was easier.

You're a first-time dad. You're a musician. Two weeks ago, the doctor diagnosed your three-year-old son with autism. Now, you're afraid to play with your son, not sure what will frighten him. Your mind is filled with questions.

You're a sixteen-year-old high school student, living with your parents. You want your one-year-old to play with other children. You have questions about your new boyfriend and don't want to ask your mom.

You're a forty-five-year-old grandmother taking care of your grandson Monday through Friday, so his parents can work. You have a few toys, but not enough. You want to talk- to anybody.

Everyone wants to be a good caretaker. Every family has dreams for their children. The City of Lakewood shares your dreams. The City of Lakewood knows that every resident, at some point in the parenting process, will encounter a situation where they could use some help. In response, the City of Lakewood, with some support from county funding, has developed programs that will help each family to reach its highest potential and to become a part of the community family.

The Lakewood Family Room, a program administered by the City of Lakewood, Department of Human Services, Division of Early Childhood, is dedicated to supporting and strengthening all care-giving families. The Family Room is located at 17400 Northwood Avenue, behind Saint James Catholic Church. Toni Gelsomino, a Lakewood resident, serves as the program manager. "Toni has a consistently gentle approach. She's all about empowering us to make good decisions," said Emmie Hutchinson, a program participant.

The Lakewood Family Room is for every child, newborn to eight-years-old. The Lakewood Family Room is also for every caregiver. The program is free. There is no registration. You just drop-in. In this age of cutbacks and program slashing, people expect to pay top dollar for everything. Some people think if a program is free that it's only for people in need, people who can't afford a fee-based program. Not true. Some people think if a program is free, the quality might not be there. Not true. This program is an effort to create a sense of community, to reduce the isolation that caregivers often feel and to provide the best early opportunities for children.

Take the first example given above- a thirty-five-year-old nursing mom having difficulty feeding her newborn. The Family Room offers a Wednesday morning session, Nursing Moms Chat. In this one and a half hour program, nursing moms get to meet with Suzanne Forsgren, R.N., BSN, Perinatal Home Visit Coordinator and Lactation Consultant from Lakewood Hospital. Suzanne has a scale on the table to weigh infants. She reinforces feeding techniques, suggests dietary intake for moms whose infant may be lactose-intolerant, and places phone calls to physicians. "There are questions you don't want to call your doctor about," said one mother. "I call Suzanne."

A new mother may experience sadness, mood swings, bouts of crying, and depression. Suzanne creates a safe environment for moms to discuss their feelings and makes referrals to additional community resources as needed. "There's such a need for new moms to connect with other new moms," said Suzanne. "The concerns mothers have are universal."

Or you might start your week off with the Alternative Parenting Drop-In. What's that, you say, some program left over from the seventies. No. This is a group of caregivers who are self-directed. They know they can go to Toni Gelsomino if they have questions about a community resource. On Monday morning, they bring their children to the Family Room to discuss topics such as recycling, nutrition, cloth vs. disposal diapers, home schooling and community schools. In fact, Lynn Rodemann, a mom who attends this program, said, "We spend a lot of time talking about schools." Most of these caregivers work outside the home in part-time jobs.

The Family Room also offers a Parents Raising Children with Special Needs Drop-In program on Friday mornings. Funded by the county and staffed by Kayann Zentarski and Alice Podgorski, Family Support Specialists for Early Intervention with Help Me Grow, this program is designed to provide a supportive environment for the child and caregiver. The Family Room is large enough, divided into three spaces: a kitchen with a supervised play tub; a large conference room with table and chairs, wooden building blocks, and a puppet theatre; and a large playroom with couches, chairs, a table and over a half-dozen play stations. On Fridays, this large space allows the children to play in a structured, cozy setting. As Jim Kusinski said, "This is ideal." His four-year-old son, Michael, has apraxia and wasn't sounding words at eighteen months. He and his son have been attending the Friday program for two years. "When families feel there's no hope or anybody out there, and feel they want to talk to other families, they can come to the Family Room," said Kayann.

In your home, behind closed doors, it's easy to think that nobody will understand your situation. But once you walk into the Family Room, you know you're not alone. Caregivers play with their children. Children play with each other. At nine-thirty, one recent Thursday Morning Drop-In, the Family Room held about a dozen children and as many adults. The air was filled with the hum of tender voices. By ten-thirty, more families had arrived. Moms and dads drank coffee, sat in clusters talking, played with the kids in the puppet theatre or sat at the learning table.

"Parenting is isolating and difficult," said Ginger, a mom and Lakewood resident. "No matter what your socioeconomic status, everybody needs a friend and support." You will meet caregivers in the Family Room who have completed eight grades, or are high school graduates, Ph.D. candidates, chefs, writers, stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads, grandparents, or caregivers who work outside the home at part-time or full-time jobs. You will meet longtime Lakewood residents and newcomers. You'll meet people for whom English is their second and, in some cases, third language. "It's the greatest asset Lakewood has to offer," Ginger said. There's also a toy lending program.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and on Wednesday evenings, the Lakewood Family Room offers the Learn Through Play Early Literacy Program. This program prepares children up to age five for a more formal classroom setting. It helps a child feel comfortable with other children. And for parents, it helps to strengthen the bond with their child. In this setting, play is instructive. Angela Skourlis and Sharon Gaspar, both moms with education backgrounds and over a year employment in the program, are the staff members.

Each play station has a card, play pointers, that tells the adult how to use the activity and suggests open-ended questions to ask the child. The learning table theme changes monthly. "Don't just come once," said Angela Skourlis. "The first time you may not feel comfortable." Angela encourages caregivers to come often. Friendships will form. Your children will learn.

The Mommy and Me Teen Parent Drop-In is held on Thursday evenings at Lakewood Hospital. One participant has been attending the group for over six years. Children accompanied by seven moms, one grandmother and two dads attended the program one recent evening. The children played. Three moms, who have known each other since kindergarten, sat around a table and chatted. After pizza and general discussion, Barbara O'Patry, a licensed counselor, led a group discussion on relationships. The teens talked, some openly, about the choices they have made.

"What we're trying to create is an atmosphere where we all grow and become stronger," said Toni Gelsomino. Assisting Toni and the staff with this goal is Cindy Walsh, a Licensed Independent Social Worker and family support specialist. Cindy is an employee of Lakewood Hospital contracted with the city with funds provided by the Children's Trust Fund. Cindy works ten hours a week at the Family Room and is available for families who request assistance. She makes home visits, makes referrals to other agencies, helps families to connect with resources within the community, and helps each family to develop a plan that works for them. "This is a very innovative relationship," said Toni, referring to the relationship between Lakewood Hospital and the Family Room.

Another innovative aspect of the program is that the City of Lakewood utilizes space, once Saint James Convent, that is now Saint James Childcare Center. The nuns who lived in the convent were Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary. As teachers, they would be pleased to hear the laughter and learning of the children. There's plenty of free parking either in the building's small private lot or on the street.

"It's all about breaking down isolation, building friendships and establishing relationships," said Toni Gelsomino. The City of Lakewood invites you, all of you, to come to The Family Room. Please contact Toni at 216/529-5018 for program details.

The Lakewood Family Room

Community Families

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The photo of Angela Skourlis
and her children goes here

Angela Skourlis with Elizabeth 6, Katherine 4, Mary 3.

The following was written by Angela Potts Skourlis, resident of Lakewood since 1969.

The year is almost half over. The holidays are a faint memory and I still have a feeling of gratitude in my heart. It is a little unsettling because I cannot put my finger on why I am so thankful. I pause and run through the list of family and friends. I marvel as I start to categorize my thankfulness to them. As the list takes form, I can see my topic sentence. I have gratitude in my heart because I am thankful for my community in good ole Lakewood, Ohio.

Yes, Lakewood, the city where I was raised; the city that I tried many times to shake. I went to college and said, "I never will go back to Lakewood!" I went to the Rocky Mountains to find myself and shake a bad relationship and I proclaimed, "I will never set foot in Lakewood!" I married and followed my husband and his job down South, and I laughed, "We will never come back to snow or Lakewood!" Yet, I always came back.

Sometimes, I drive in my car and wonder what I am still doing in Lakewood and I make plans to escape as soon as I can. Other days, I can never see myself anywhere else. Here is my confession- I have three young daughters and we need this community. We have built it and we will stay.

What is the community that I speak of? It is my family, my silver and my gold friends, my neighbors, groups such as JWCL, and the LECPTA, but, mostly, it is the Lakewood Family Room. It is my safe haven.

For those of you who are a part of my life at The Lakewood Family Room, I am thankful for you. You have eased me into life's chapter called parenthood. You have held my hand, dried my tears, sung songs, laughed, encouraged, talked, and drunk endless cups of coffee with me. When I look at you and see how wonderful you are, I hope you can look at me and see those same things.

I have traveled the world at the Family Room. I have friends from Germany, Russia, Thailand and Poland. I have friends from little cow towns and friends from major cities. Some friendships have been fleeting, but some have developed into an extended family. We have shared births, deaths, birthdays and everything in between. Life breathes here.

At first glance, The Lakewood Family Room can be overwhelming chaos. Children run amuck and you may wonder if they have a caretaker near. The beauty is that we, the adults, are caretakers to every child in the room. If you give us a chance, let down your guard, we will welcome you. We will fold you in our arms and care for you and your children. This strong community will mold you and let you remold us.

The Family Room was awaiting my family. I found the diamond. I will stay in Lakewood because of this precious gem.

The photo of Jessica
Drayer and her family
goes here

Jessica Drayer and Robert Gross, Jr. with Alyssa 5, Aidan 3, Alek 22 months, and Aryanna 10 months.

Jessica wrote: "The Family Room is a place where parents can find support, encouragement, and a connection to local resources without judgment. It is accepted that even great parents need help occasionally."

Twenty-two-year-old Jessica Drayer, mother of three children, ranging in ages from twenty-one months to five and a half years, moved to Lakewood eight and a half years ago. In Lakewood time, she's a newcomer. Jessica graduated from Lakewood High School and was a member of the Flag Corps.

Jessica attended a GRADS Program at Lakewood High School for young moms as well as attending the Mommy and Me Teen Parent Drop-In on Thursday evenings at Lakewood Hospital Childcare Center. With the help of the GRADS Program, Jessica was linked to the CDBG scholarship program to assist with the cost of child care for her daughter, Alyssa. "I got my best grade in my senior year," said Jessica, proudly.

When Jessica's son, Aidan, was born, she went to the Nursing Moms Chat program at the Lakewood Family Room. Jessica felt pressured by some of her peers and some older moms not to breast feed. Of the nursing moms group, Jessica said, "It was a place to get help and reinforcement."

Jessica and her children attend the Family Room Tuesday and Thursday programs. Jessica gets to interact with other moms, socialize and see how other moms do things. "It helps me keep my sanity, get out of the house and be happier and balanced." It gives her children an opportunity to know other children. "My kids love coming to the Family Room. Alyssa gets upset if for some reason the family can't get to the center."

Over the years, Jessica has sought and received assistance from Cindy Walsh, Licensed Independent Social Worker, and from Toni Gelsomino, the Family Room Program Manager. Of the services, she said, "I get the support I need. What's important for me is the help that comes without judgment."

Jessica and her fiancé, the father of ten-month-old Aryanna, are attending a Parenting Education Series on Thursday evenings at the Family Room. Over the years, Jessica has been told that she has problems because she's young. Now that she's in the parenting class where she listens to parents of all ages, she said, "Raising children is difficult no matter what age you are. Period."

As for Jessica's dreams for the future, she plans to attend nursing school: "A lot of my focus is my children being able to look up to me. I want to give my children stability- financially and emotionally."

The photo of Justine Cooper
and her children goes here.

Justine Cooper with Corinna, 4, and Aidan, 3.

Justine Cooper is an eight-year resident of Lakewood. Until recently, she owned a business on Madison Avenue.

She and her husband have three children: Aidan, three, Corinna, four, and Nicholas, fifteen. Of the Lakewood Family Room, Justine said, "I think it's one of the best assets in Lakewood."

Justine and her husband have no immediate family in the area. Her pre-schoolers are twelve months apart. She found that her husband was working long hours. And, as she said, we have long winters. "If I didn't have The Family Room, I honestly would feel lonely." And when you're home you are on the phone, doing laundry, cleaning. "I wanted to give the kids a different environment and get out of the house."

Presently, Corrina is in pre-school. Aidan attends the Family Room Learn Through Play Early Literacy Program. The Family Room teaches Aidan to share, to be more social and also to be comfortable with independent play. Aidan finds the rice table calming. Now that summer is here, Corrina and Aidan will make more trips to the Family Room.

Justine plans to go back to school and finish her counseling degree. She wants to counsel children. She loves the fact that the Family Room staff is warm and welcoming and that the group is diverse. There are people from all backgrounds, all cultures, some born in other countries. "You have a common bond when you're at the Family Room."

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Volume 2, Issue 13, Posted 11:11 AM, 06.17.06