The family sits down for dinner. There are no cell phones, no televisions and no distractions. They discuss their problems and issues, with the guidance of a trained counselor. After dinner, they sit together, play board games and talk. At the end of the evening, they realize to their amazement that they have never spent time like this together as a family before.
Family dinner is just one of the programs offered by First 5 San Benito’s new Family Impact Center, which opened on Jan. 14. Lisa Faulkner, executive director of First 5, said the goal is to create a one-stop resource for families in need.
“We are partnering with organizations in the community that provide intervention services,” she said. “It could be families wanting these dinners to build stronger relationships. It could be anything from people in need of parenting tips to families dealing with domestic violence or drug addiction.”
The facility, located at 351 Tres Pinos Road, Suite 103A, in Hollister, has been remodeled into a group of inviting rooms dedicated to various activities. There is a literacy center with an extensive library and a collection of board games; a community classroom for meetings and instruction; a child development center with educational activities; a breastfeeding room that offers both privacy and a breast pumping station; and of course, the dining room which families can reserve for the dinner program.
First 5 partners with six different county agencies to offer services, including Behavioral Health, Health and Human Services, and Community Services and Workforce Development. There are also 16 community partners such as Head Start, Community Foodbank, Emmaus House, the Migrant Housing Center, and the Safe Kids Coalition.
One of the Family Impact Center’s first clients exemplified the collaboration between First 5 and its partners.
“She came in and she touched on every system we have,” Faulkner said. “Before we opened, a lot of these different systems were not talking to each other. This person needed housing, they were in trouble with law enforcement, they had a special needs child. Through this collaboration, we all came together. We provided what we could through our programs, then called on our other partners for intervention services.”
One of the primary focuses of the center is child welfare.
“A child in difficulty can come here and look for assistance,” Faulkner said. “We are partnering with the YMCA for afterschool programs and are here for social support. If they need behavioral health services, we have partners in town and have a counselor here every Friday. We might try parent education too, as a mild intervention, but we can do clinical interventions as well.”
Christine Henriquez is with the Strengthening Families Program, another partner. They offer classes to help build better bonds between parents and children, and teach coping skills to help improve a family’s resilience.
“I think the state of mind in the community has been lowered because of the rapid growth and the homeless population here,” Henriquez said. “These are setbacks in our community and we need to get in there with the right tools.”
Henriquez said that as a parent, she knows that kids do not come with a handbook.
“Parenting is always something you can brush up on. I firmly believe that when a couple finds out they are going to have a child they should enroll in a parenting class to teach you some of the skills you can learn here.”
Parenting classes at the center explore prenatal education, post-natal skills, and how to increase self-awareness to build healthy relationships.
“We are social beings but horrible at communication,” Henriquez said. “We are thinking beings, but we overthink everything. Having a place to learn some of these skills is key to thriving in your relationship with your family.”
The Family Impact Center’s hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the center at (831) 634-2046.