Family Connections has helped Heights parents and kids connect for 35 years
When meeting new friends, it’s not unusual for a Cleveland Heights parent to realize that their paths have already crossed. “I think I recognize you. Did you use the Little Heights playroom at the library when your kids were little?” “Oh, I know you! We were in Baby & Me together.” When asking school-age families how they know one another, the winding roots often go back to one of these early moments.
Little Heights and Baby & Me are community institutions that Cleveland Heights residents often take for granted. The programs nurture families, serving as a welcoming place to bring babies and toddlers during the long, lonesome and joyful days of early childhood. Families collect friendships, parenting advice and relief before moving on to other hubs as kids inevitably evolve. Knowing that the resources were there for years prior, families often assume that the cycle will continue for the next cohort.
Family Connections, the wellspring of this rich legacy, is the result of one of the most successful nonprofit mergers known to our community. Prior to 2010, this beloved programming was under the umbrella of Heights Parent Center, which was founded in 1982 by two CH-UH teachers who saw the need to ensure kindergarten readiness by investing in the earliest years of children’s lives. That vision evolved from a small, volunteer-operated drop-in; to a staffed grassroots organization that burgeoned through the 1980s; and on to a sustainable, grant-funded organization that launched Baby & Me and other programs in the 1990s.
Regardless of the stage of organizational development, the intention and outcomes have been remarkably consistent over the past 35 years. For Cleveland Heights resident Betsey Bell, the programming was “a lifesaver” 20 years ago, when she was a first-time stay-at-home parent. “We could come and be ourselves, bring our questions and answers, and share friendship,” said Bell. Many of those friendships endured into the elementary school years and, now, the college years.
With kids 20 years younger than Bell’s, Kristen Day’s experience has been similar. Though the programming now is in a different building and under the auspices of a multi-site organization, providing families with expanded drop-in hours in Cleveland Heights or Shaker Heights, the mission and delivery of service remains consistent. “We commiserate when it’s going bad and we celebrate when it’s going well,” said Day, who likes having the in-person connections with other parents. Social media has its role, too, according to Day, as the families she knew from her first round of Baby & Me formed a Facebook group that has become a connection for sharing parenting advice, service referrals and companionship for outings.
That is the goal of Family Connections’ programming: to build connections during a time when parents feel the most isolated, with the hope that the connections will keep growing over time. Cleveland Heights is imprinted by this exponentially growing connectivity, resulting in families who are supported to thrive and who are supported during hardship, through the early childhood years, and the decades that follow.
Looking back, with one child in college and one soon-to-launch, the legacy of Baby & Me is interwoven through two decades for the Bell family. Baby & Me relationships served as a conduit to the CH-UH school district, volunteer roles within the community, and an investment in ensuring the legacy continues for others. “It changes lives,” said Bell. “This agency is an enormous resource to the families who use it, impacting multiple generations and adding great value to our community, our children.”
Family Connections sites host daily drop-in programs scheduled to accommodate families’ unique needs. Visit www.familyconnections1.org/events/calendar.php for details.
Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson, LISW-S, is a freelance editor, child development specialist, and nonprofit consuiltant who makes her home in Cleveland Heights. More than anything, Nacson is inspired by kids and adults who build connection through kindness.