On Vacation, Going Home

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Our family went on vacation recently. It was nothing too fancy: a friend of the family owns a condo on the coast in which we have been staying, occasionally, for the last few years. It is entirely different from taking a trip to, say, Disneyland, or driving to the Grand Canyon. It is familiar. As many times as we have moved since our children were born, this place has been a constant. It is very much a kind of home.

I think that often family vacations can be as stressful, if not more so, than so-called “regular” life. The packing and preparation, the expectation for everyone to have a “good time,” can be more trouble than it is worth. I can understand the temptation for new and unique experiences; after all, as parents we want our children to keep these memories with them and to cherish them as bright spots in their lives. That’s why family trips come with the further expectation of a lot of photos. “See? This really happened. We did this once.”

Our trips to the coast are more like “staycations.” The kids know what is around them, and what there is to do, and we look forward to settling into them again. That view of the Bay bridge, the sight of the clammers wading around in low tide. The lights of the fishing boats; the seals popping up offshore. For me, this extends to the most banal features of our stay: the quirks of the condo’s oven, with its variations in temperature. The water pressure in the shower and the smell of the resident laundry soap. The soft creak of the stairs (we don’t have stairs at home).

The same applies to the more “vacationy” activities around us. We can’t always afford admission for six at the Oregon Coast Aquarium (in which case, as you may know, the nearby–and free–Hatfield Marine Science Center has its own charms). But as a large family, we have discovered that it’s easy to pay for an annual membership, as it’s not much more than a one-day pass. If we have a membership, we can treat the Aquarium as an extension of our home environment. We don’t need to feel that we are getting our money’s worth by seeing as much as we can, by gorging on everything that’s available. If we want to spend an hour in the theater, with its aquatic animal costumes, puzzles and books, we can do so without regret. If someone just needs a shark fix, we can head straight for the tunnel.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous person. If you or your children crave the thrill of new places and experiences, I salute you. Occasionally, this is what we want as well. But for the most part, what we are trying to do is go home.

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New Year’s Resolutions for Parents and Families

This week’s guest post is from Cindy M. Knapp, MS, LMFT, RPT-S. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Cindy.

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A new year often suggests that we take note of where our lives are at. I wondered what parents had to say about resolutions they were making for themselves and their families for the coming year. I looked at a number of popular websites and read some other blogs. I found that there were common thoughts everywhere.

Most parents seem to feel pressured to DO more, or somehow to BE more. There’s a lot of unnecessary guilt because of expectations parents place on themselves. However, the theme that showed up most in my research is that most parents are longing to feel more connected to their partners and their children; to be closer.

Here are some simple ideas that might help you accomplish this goal, too:

1. HAVE MORE FUN TOGETHER.

  • Take a few minutes after dinner one night a week and write down one idea from each family member of some enjoyable, small activity that she/he would like to do with the family in the coming week. Put the idea on the family calendar, no matter how silly it might seem. Then, make sure that you consider it as important as other things on the calendar (like doctor’s appointments) and have fun!
  • Start “Single Kid Night” (or call it whatever you’d like.) If you have more than one child, you might rarely spend one-on-one time with them. Pick one night a week and set a time limit. An important part of this routine is that the child gets to pick what activity she or he wants the parent to do. You can set limits on options that are available. The family establishes that this time is not to be interrupted. This is easy to pull off if the other children understand that their time with the parent won’t be interrupted, either. If there’s more than one parent in the home, schedule “Single Kid Night” in a way that works best for you, but includes both parents spending time with each child.

2. ENCOURAGE FAMILY TOGETHERNESS THROUGH CONTRIBUTION.

  • Cut down on chaos by establishing routines in which everyone works together to take care of the home. Okay, I know, “yawn.” Probably, no one is going to be excited to work with you on this one. However, children feel good when they make a contribution to the family. Keep it simple. For example, when parents are cleaning up after dinner, have the children help with a specific assigned activity. Use encouraging language to show that you value the child’s contribution. Here’s another idea: when you get out of the car, have all the children look around and pick up some things that need to be taken out. Yes, training the children to participate takes time, but it will help you feel less stressed and more connected if everyone is allowed to help.
  • Look for opportunities to prompt siblings to do things for each other. Think of small things and encourage this often. Remember to include the younger child(ren) in doing things for the older ones. Teach the concept of how we need each other. Some examples: “I see your brother is struggling to do _____; I bet he could use your help.” “You are really good at ____ and your sister is trying to learn. Teach her, please.” Note that these are not in the form of questions. Your child can refuse, but the words suggest that we need each other.

3. TAKE SOME TIME OUT TO PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR PARTNER.

  • Make it a priority to sit down and face each other, and check in about your day. If you don’t PLAN to do this and make it a daily ritual, it’s unlikely to happen. When you as parents work on your connection to each other, your children will see this and benefit from it. How you treat each other and the ways in which you make one another feel important and valued sets the tone for how your children act.
  • Be your partner’s best friend. According to marital researcher John Gottman, committed couples who treat their partners like good friends have a stronger bond.  In addition, you show your children behaviors you want them to learn.

Thanks to the Chaos

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Tanya Pritt. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tanya.

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This time of year, even more than usual, my thoughts turn to my children as they were growing up. Maybe it is the glitter of Christmas and reminiscing about holidays gone by. As an old mom of young men grown up, this happens often. A sight, smell, sound or a dream may inspire those lapses back in time down Memory Lane.

I listened to a young mom on the radio this morning talking about how she rises early for some “alone time” before her children woke up and her day turned to sheer chaos. I smiled and reflected on the chaos of my days. Life with my two youngest boys was busy to say the least. The older of the two was a gifted athlete, playing multiple sports on premier league levels in every season. My youngest likes to tell people that we were homeless often and living in our van. This may have been his perception, but we really did have a home to go to at the end of the day, tournament, or travel. Within the van we carried two coolers, one for dry foods and one for iced drinks. We had multiple duffel bags with sporting equipment and a bin with towels and changes of clothes. We carried blankets, pillows, and rain gear. We would navigate from one sports field to another, eating a meal from the coolers and changing uniforms for the next sport or game.

People who watched us either thought “What fun!” or “You’re crazy”. I guess it’s all in perception. But as I listened to this mom on the radio this morning, I related and I got tears in my eyes as I remembered those chaotic times. And nostalgia eases the pain the chaos presented in the moment.

I, too, would get up early in the morning before the kids woke up. Sometimes extremely tired, wanting those few minutes more of sleep, but knowing if I did my day would be more frantic. Those moments  gave me time for reflection, time to take stock of my gratitude (healthy boys, a job, a car that was currently running, and food for nourishment that day) and time to plan the most efficient way through the day. But it was my gratitude that gave me the strength to invite the day, its activities, and responsibilities. It helped to calm me before the energy erupted!

So to all the young mothers and fathers: hang in there! Give thanks to the chaos! Take time, somewhere in your day, for pause and reflection. And know, amid the chaos or busy adventure, that it is not the end of the story. Every day we have the opportunity to write another chapter of our family experience.

 

Tanya has been the Director of Milestones for the past 21 years.  She has been working in the field of addictions for over 30 years. 

Making Changes

This week we have another guest post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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In my years of parenting, I often acted and reacted to my children in ways that weren’t very effective and that sometimes made the situation worse. As I worked on making changes in my behavior, I learned that changing behavior isn’t easy. Here are some ideas that have helped me, and continue to help me. I am still not a perfect parent or grandparent! These are research-based ideas, drawn from The Incredible Years, Nurturing Parenting and other parenting curriculums. They are ideas I have found helpful to me.

 

  1. Focus on one skill or change. Be as specific as possible: “I am going to spend 10 minutes playing with my preschooler every weekday at 9 am.” It’s fine to make other changes at the same time, but focus on one.

 

  1. Make it a positive action. You can’t do a don’t. Every relationship can benefit from spending time focused on that person—playing, listening, doing something fun together, or working on something together. Relationship expert John Gottman recommends a ratio of at least 5 positive interactions to each negative interaction. If you want to stop doing something—like yelling at your children—come up with a substitute action to do when you feel like yelling. Writing a note, doing jumping jacks, throwing ice cubes into the sink—you might want to brainstorm a list with a friend or with your children.

 

  1. Involve others. Explain your plan and ask for their help and support. Tell them what would be helpful to you as you make changes. Don’t waste time criticizing other’s approaches, but concentrate on your own efforts to change. Find or create a support group of others who are making changes—especially if those around you are not supportive. Parenting classes are a great place to get support and to make friends.

 

  1. Expect resistance. Changes—even positive ones—can trigger negative responses from those around you. Family and friends may be skeptical or even outright hostile. Children may misbehave to get you to react the way you used to because that is what they know and expect from you. It can help to acknowledge their confusion while explaining your new approach and addressing any misbehavior calmly but firmly. “I know I usually yell at you. But I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t think you like hearing me. You know how to listen to my quiet voice, too. The toys still need to be put away.”

 

  1. Use reminders: electronic or old-fashioned. Try notes, checklists, calendars, alarms, timers, friends, relatives, your children, etc. Create or request reminders that are polite and reaffirming.

 

  1. Track your progress. Praise and reward yourself for accomplishments—no matter how small. Star charts aren’t just for kids.

 

  1. Be nice to yourself. Keep your inner and outer self-talk positive. When you mess up, you can admit it (and perhaps apologize) and say “_____ is hard to do but I am working on it.” When you are successful, celebrate that achievement.

 

  1. Learn from your mistakes and from the times that went well. What things interfere with, and what things help, your efforts to change? If you don’t seem to be able to make the change, step back and analyze the situation and the factors involved.

 

  1. Be patient. Real changes take time.

 

  1. Keep at it. According to researchers Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, in their book Changing for Good, real, lasting change usually takes a spiral pattern—up, level, dipping back down, then around and up a little more.

 

We often wish our children would change their behavior, but for that to happen, we usually have to change our behavior towards them. Moreover, being a parent means our behavior has to keep changing because our children keep growing and changing. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible. You can do it.

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Tips for Shopping Trips: Toddlers to Teens

This week’s guest post is by Julie Whitus. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Julie.

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As a mother of six children, I have had some traumatic experiences in grocery stores, including meltdowns, tantrums, rude looks from strangers, and just plain embarrassment. Now my oldest child is 19 years old and my youngest is three. Throughout my years as a parent, I have come up with a few helpful tips to help make grocery shopping enjoyable for the whole family.

First, I think it is important to remember these three things before going grocery shopping:

1. Avoid shopping at high traffic times (for example, the lunch hour and dinner rush).

2. Avoid shopping when anyone is really hungry or really tired.

3. Create safety rules and before entering the store, and help your children recite them. For my family they are simple: walk, hold on to cart, and use indoor voices.

Toddler Tips

Play I Spy

While at the grocery store with a toddler, go near the item you are looking for and say, “We need bananas; what color are bananas?” “Can you help me find the yellow bananas?” This gives your toddler something to do and they enjoy helping. You can also include them in weighing produce on the scales.

Counting Games

When choosing items such as yogurt or canned foods, have your toddler help to count them or place them in the cart.

Elementary School Age Tips

Write the Shopping List

If your child loves to write or plan, have them help you write the list. My  8 year-old loves this part of shopping.

Find the Aisle, Food, and Best Price

This requires more creativity than playing I Spy with the toddler. Say things like, “Hmm, I am looking for cereal; what aisle is that in?” “We need cereal; what does that start with? Do you see an aisle that has cereal on the sign?” Depending on age and development, sometimes I make it a game and ask which child can find the best priced item.

Tips for Teens

Menu Planning

Have your teens pick a night to cook. They can plan out the ingredients and     budget. This is great because it gives the teens a mission, their choice of a meal, and an understanding of the cost of food. Also, teenagers can help to write out the shopping list, find the items and do the math to keep it to a budget.

I know as a mom that a trip to the grocery store can be challenging. Just remember that children love to help and have a developmental need to be stimulated. Feel free to try these tips or come up with your own. Of course, nothing works all the time and if a meltdown occurs, it’s okay…it happens.

 

Julie Whitus is an ISRS (In-Home Safety and Reunification Services) Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Nurturing Lifetime Readers

This week’s guest post is from Lindsey Blake. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Lindsey. Here’s hoping there are some books under the tree this year.

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One of my favorite times as a child was when my mom would say, “Alright girls, let’s pick out some books for us to read before bedtime!” My sister and I would then race to our bedroom closet and bring out an armful of books. My mom would read them to us; and though my sister and I were toddlers, we would sometimes “read” the books to my mom.

Looking back, bedtime reading was truly a bonding experience for the three of us. No matter how busy we were as a family, my mom made an effort to set aside this time for us every night. Even if it was for a mere five minutes I always treasured this time, and it became part of our nightly routine.

Reading to children, from as early as infancy, is helpful in many ways:

1) Reading can foster a child’s imagination. Reading introduces children to new words, colors and pictures, stories and concepts. A preschooler may open up a book and read to those around her. She may tell a story that makes no sense to an adult, but to the child it is fascinating!

2) Reading can help children understand tough transitional times. Big milestones like potty training, going to school, going to the doctor, welcoming a new sibling, etc. can often be explained well with stories and pictures.

3) Reading a book with your kids can help build their attention span. Children, as you know, are full of energy and have a hard time staying still. Through reading on a regular basis, children will learn to be engaged with the story and will develop an interest in listening.

4) Reading creates the ability to learn for a lifetime. A toddler who is read to becomes an elementary student who likes to read, and will continue to read as an adult.

I encourage you to make reading to your child a regular activity. It’s never too early to start, and if you build it into your daily routine, then books will become a treasured and valuable part of their lives.

Happy reading!

 

Lindsey Blake is a Family Support Worker in the Parents And Children Together program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

You Don’t Have To Fix It

We continue with what is turning out to be a month of guest bloggers with a post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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Just the other day I got a text message from one of my adult children complaining about a problem. I texted back a helpful suggestion, and another, and another. Which were received with several, “Yes, buts.” It wasn’t until a couple hours later that it occurred to me that I could have simply been empathetic. I could have listened and acknowledged the challenges of dealing with that problem instead of trying to fix it.

I know that listening with empathy is the best way to respond. I have experienced the benefits many times.

  • When I listen empathetically, I show respect. Being respected helps anyone cope with difficult situations.
  • When I listen without trying to solve the problem, I convey confidence in the other person’s ability to deal with the situation. The process of coming up with one’s own solutions to problems promotes learning and growth and increased ability and confidence.
  • When I refrain from offering solutions, I usually find out more information about the situation. When the other person feels free to tell me more, the problem becomes clearer to both of us.

Empathetic listening without jumping in to try to “fix it” is the cornerstone of the classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and a major part of most other parenting books and curriculums. It’s a skill that is useful in any relationship.

Yes, there are times when fixing a problem is necessary—medical emergencies and dangerous situations are times to act and be empathetic along the way. In non-emergencies, empathy is a place to start; sometimes it is all that is needed, other times it opens the door to finding out more information and problem solving together or with outside help.

I share the strategy of empathetic listening with parents in my workshops and in my volunteer work all the time. I’m reasonably successful in responding empathetically to other people. But, as I tell parents, it is a whole lot easier to respond with empathy to a stranger or a friend than to your own children—even when they are competent adults! When I’m the parent, I have a strong gut urge to fix whatever the problem is. However, I have found some strategies that help me remember:

  1. Giving myself empathy first.
  1. Acknowledging (to myself) my underlying worries and fears about my child’s condition or situation. The urge to jump in with solutions is usually based in fear.
  1. Apologize when I jump into fix-it mode. Request a do over. Ask my children to remind me.

Being empathetic isn’t easy. It is worth it, though. One mother shared in a workshop that she dreading having her children tell her things because she thought she needed to solve all their problems, once she let go of having to “fix it,” she was happy to listen more. Now that I think about it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that text in the first place without a background of years of (much of the time, anyway) listening without trying to “fix it.”

 

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Turning the Cup

This week’s guest post is by Dessie Wilson. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Dessie.

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I do believe that you’re a product of what you’re raised in.

My mother was born into poverty; she suffered mental and sexual abuse from both of her parents. She got pregnant at a young age and was forced to marry a very abusive sociopath. My mother bore three children with my father, and I am the middle child. We suffered from chronic homelessness and abuse during my early childhood years, followed by several stays in domestic violence shelters hiding from my father. My mother had experienced tremendous trauma and abuse and yet she was raising (by this time) four kids, working, and going to college, so it was in all respects every child for themselves.

I was not raised with rules or discipline. I was never read to, nor did I receive help with homework. I was never told to brush or floss my teeth. I wasn’t raised to do chores, I was raised to run wild and make sure my younger brothers were taken care of.

Now that I am a mother, I often say that I am not sure that I was meant to be one. I don’t think that it is a gift I was born with. I am not naturally nurturing, or empathetic, or even that caring and gentle. I lack the skills to be a disciplined productive parent, the same skills that were not demonstrated to me when I was a child. I’m horrible at making sure my kids do their homework; I brush my teeth but do not make them brush theirs.

The one thing I take away from my childhood is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother loves me. I have always felt comfortable talking to her. And I believe that one thing I do right as a parent is fostering an environment where my children feel safe to talk to me. Throughout the last couple of years and through my program of recovery, I have learned how to listen to my girls. I can allow them to talk without talking back. I even ask my thirteen year-old if she would like to know what I hear, and if she tells me no, I listen and don’t give her unsolicited advice.

My children’s father is not present, and I get to share with my girls my own experience of having an absent father. I share how my relationship with my father made me feel unwanted and unloved and unimportant. I share my fears of being abandoned, of not being loveable or good enough.

Most importantly, I get to share with them how I learned that it wasn’t true. That I was always wanted and important and loved but that my father didn’t know how to show me, because he had something broken inside of him too. When my children come home and complain about getting picked on or bullied, I turn the cup for them. I share my experience, and how I have learned that what other people do or say to me is not about me as much as it is about them: how most kids are full of fear and have a basic social instinct, and if making fun of you is one way they can get to the top, then that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them, and their fear of not being liked. I take my childhood and adulthood experience and share them with my children so that hopefully I can turn the cup for them and show them a different perspective on life.

I am by no means mother of the year—I yell at my kids, I get frustrated, I cry—but I try to foster an environment of communication and unconditional love.

 

Dessie Wilson is the Family Treatment Court Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

A Shopping Story

This week’s post was contributed by Kelly Schell. I hope that you find it useful and we look forward to more posts from Kelly in the future.

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I remember my first solo trip to the grocery store several weeks after the birth of my second child. I took my two daughters, one a toddler, to do some grocery shopping. It was my first opportunity to do so since being discharged from the hospital. I was exhausted, and not at my best.

Upon arriving at the store, I looked for a cart and discovered that none of them had built in infant seats. I did not have the type of infant car seat that had a detachable carrier, so I had to juggle my 22 month-old daughter, her newborn sister and a cart. Faced with this situation, I decided the easiest thing to do was to let my 22 month-old walk with me while shopping. I awkwardly pushed the cart with one arm while holding my two week old infant with the other.

My other daughter, being a bright and independent toddler, soon realized my limitations. Taking advantage of this, she took off running through the store, ready to play a game of chase. I called out to her to stop, becoming increasingly frustrated when she kept going. I found that I had to abandon the shopping cart in order to pursue my wildly giggling toddler through the store. I became increasingly frustrated, angry and embarrassed as I unsuccessfully attempted to rein in my errant daughter. My feeling of embarrassment was intensified by the fact that the chase was witnessed by other customers, most of whom openly stared as we passed them. I was sure I was being judged and found lacking as a parent; after all, I couldn’t even control my small child. When I eventually caught up to my daughter, I felt irritated and angry that she had done this to me. I retrieved her, ensuring that she knew how unhappy I was with her, and quickly left the store to go home.

I have used this more than once as an example to underscore how we perceive what other people are thinking often influences us, especially in our parenting. Most of us, especially in stressful situations, have a negative inner dialogue that happens regularly that we may not even be aware of. For example, when I am shopping and my two year old tantrums loudly in the middle of store, I might think things like: “I’m a bad mother,” or “My child is acting awful”. Looks and occasional comments made by well-meaning bystanders often serve to reinforce our negative perception of our parenting. We tend to assume that people are judging us, even if they really aren’t. All of these factors can make it difficult to remain calm and focus on dealing effectively with our children.

There are several tactics you can use to help you remain calm and focused in these situations.

  • Be aware of your negative self-talk and change it to positive self-talk. This is not easy and takes practice. Instead of “I’m a bad mother” you could change it to, “I’m a good mother doing the best I can.” Instead of “My child is acting awful” you could say, “My child is acting like a normal two year old.”
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and ignore unsolicited opinions. People may judge you, and you have no control over that, but you can decide how it will affect you. This is also difficult and will require practice.
  • Avoid or minimize the potential for public outings to become overly stressful. One way to do this is to plan ahead as much as possible and to set expectations for your children. When children know what to expect, things tend to go much smoother for them and for you. Be flexible; you may have to change your plan, no matter how well thought out it is.

I can look back on my experience and laugh now, but if I’d had more tools at the time, it would have been a better experience for both of us.

 

Kelly Schell is the Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery. 

Winter Is Coming

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Parenting is hard. It’s difficult enough without having to worry about getting by.

And yet: it’s getting colder, utility bills are mounting, and our children need warm clothes. The economy could be recovering faster. Do you know where to look for help?

The Holiday Resource Guide on the Parenting Success Network site is a great place to start. I want to highlight some of the other organizations in our area that can help get your family through the Winter.

Services offered by CSC include the Linn-Benton Food Share program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides financial help with utilities as well as free education on weatherization and energy conservation in the home.

“As your state-designated community action agency, CSC is here to help. We offer a number of services in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties. These services focus on essential day-to-day survival, such as food and housing, as well as developing new skills that lead to independence through education, training, and work.”

Fish of Albany provides emergency services including food, clothing, school supplies, rent and utility assistance, and help with transportation.

“Fish of Albany, Inc. is a cooperative effort begun in 1972 by civic leaders and churches to fill crisis needs for food. Incorporated in 1973, Fish has evolved to address changing community needs. It is run by 6 staff and over 30 volunteers and is funded by local churches, private donations and gifts from United Way and foundations. Annually, Fish volunteers and staff provide services to well over 22, 500 people. “

211 info is a phone-based resource that can connect you with a variety of local programs.

“Last year more than 425,000 people contacted us by dialing 211, searching for resources on 211info.org, texting their zip code to 898211 or emailing us — all toll-free and confidential. We also have bilingual staff who can take calls in Spanish; all staff have access to an interpreter service with more than 140 languages. We’re everyone’s front door to nonprofit, government and faith-based programs. There are roughly 3,000 agencies in our database providing over 50,000 programs to people throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

I refer these and other services regularly to my clients at work, and I have found that they are helpful, friendly and willing to tell you about other services if they are not able to provide exactly what you need. I have also used them myself. Working full-time and supporting four children and a stay-at-home spouse, I have taken advantage of Community Service Consortium’s Utility Assistance Program at the start of each year.

No one has to do this alone. Seeking out local resources can help us place the focus where it should be: taking care of our families.

Stay warm out there.