By Brittany McIntyre, AmeriCorps Member
“Do things like this more often! It was a blast!” is feedback we strive to hear at Helping Services because it means the unique needs of local kids and parents were met by our team in ways that best fit their family. This past year, the team did that for Clayton County families, by hosting one of the most successful Child Abuse Prevention Month events yet: Bowling Family Fun Night.
Not all families have the resources for an evening out together. During Child Abuse Prevention Month, Helping Services offers free or low-cost events to give families that chance, throughout Allamakee, Clayton, Howard, and Winneshiek Counties. (This past year, our team held 43 events, which were attended by 820 people.) These events allow parents to connect with other parents and kids to befriend other kids. This type of community networking is vital to increasing neighborhood safety for children.
Clayton County poses a unique challenge to community networking because no central gathering spot exists, making it difficult to pinpoint an event location accessible to everyone. But meeting the needs of families wherever they are at is a key pillar of our work. That means our team needs to be creative, often times by partnering with other events already happening. However, this year to keep the Child Abuse Prevention Month message the focus, we planned to host our own event in Elkader, instead of Guttenberg where most events are held. This event would allow us to connect families with important tools that help keep kids safe, such as how to recognize signs of abuse, ways parents can nurture healthy child development, and local resources families can access for specific needs or questions. So, we collaborated with the local Community Partnership for Protecting Children (CPPC) group and planned a Bowling Family Fun Night.
Beforehand, our biggest concerns were: will anyone show up, and what if too many people come, causing long delays for open lanes and crowded spaces. With it being the first year, the turnout could not be predicted, but all the Clayton County CPPC members were confident the event would be successful.
The day for bowling came, and we were all excited! In what seemed like no time at all, the bowling alley was packed with children, adults, and spinning blue pinwheels, the symbol of Child Abuse Prevention Month, which each child took home. Some families joined with others to bowl; others played board games against one another, read through parenting tip resources, or doodled on pinwheel coloring sheets, while they waited for a lane. It was an excellent opportunity for families to network and learn—our goals for putting on this event.
Throughout the night, families expressed how much fun they were having and their hope to do this again next year. One mom shared, with tears in her eyes,
“We are so thankful for the bowling night, as we really can’t afford much for entertainment. Tonight, we were able to do this as a family. We enjoyed this so much!”
All the adults were surveyed, and every single person expressed how well they felt the event supported family togetherness and child abuse prevention.
“How could this event be more successful next year?” we asked. The only remark we were given was, “Have a larger bowling alley to fit more people.” Looks like this next year we and the CPPC members can excitingly anticipate inviting Clayton County families to an annual bowling night for celebrating Child Abuse Prevention Month and for learning more ways to keep kids safe.
Numbers are from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.