One of the many community-based programs supported by the state's Child Abuse Prevention Fund is empowering Peoria families to take a more positive look at themselves.
Since 1990, families living in Peoria's Harrison public housing complex have benefited from a unique child abuse prevention program that focuses on building self esteem. Growing Together, a parenting program jointly run by Illinois Central College and the neighborhood's Harrison School, uses college classes, field trips and in-school experiences with children to teach valuable parenting skills and instill feelings of self worth. More than 120 families of children who attend Harrison have participated in the Growing Together program since its inception.
"One of the unique qualities about Growing Together is that the program is centered around self esteem," explained program coordinator Dorothy Cornish. "The premise is that if you feel good about yourself, then you'll deal with children in a positive manner."
Dr. Cornish, a professor at Illinois Central College, explained that Growing Together centers around a series of four ICC classes: human potential, conflict resolution, positive parenting and effective discipline. Classes are taught at the Harrison School and those who complete all four classes earn four college credits at ICC.
"Our beginning class on human potential deals with self esteem," Cornish said. "We start the program that way because it starts people off with a positive frame of mind. We talk with parents about what impressed them when they were two or four years old, or in high school. Maybe it's going to the prom, or graduating from the eighth grade. Then we can go on to talk about self control, handling conflict and handling anger."
Growing Together families are selected, in part, because their young children attend Harrison School. Dr. Cornish believes that building a prevention program in conjunction with a school holds great advantages. "Most parents, we feel, do not get involved with their children's school as much as they should. We want our parents to know that school is not an alien environment. Between our college classes, we have personal enrichment seminars (at Harrison School). The parents also volunteer in the lunchroom, hold bake sales, and take part in their children's classes. Now when a teacher says 'your kid is not paying attention,' they are more inclined to understand what the teacher means and take criticism of their children in a positive way," Cornish said. Cornish also noted that five Growing Together graduates now work in the school's day care program.
She added that classes and seminars are supplemented with a variety of other activities designed to build self esteem. "We have exercise classes, dieting, anything that makes a person feel good about themselves. In addition, we have two sit-down dinners and at least three cultural activities each year. Some have never been to a civic center or stayed at a hotel. We've had a trip to St. Louis, and this May we're going to the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago," Cornish said.
Approximately 50 children of the Growing Together families participate in after-school activities with Harrison teachers each year. Group activities, such as role playing and art classes, emphasize self esteem and independence.
Cornish said that Growing Together has helped many parents understand that they can be successful. Twenty-three participants are now employed in local hospitals, day care programs and other businesses. More than 50 parents have enrolled at Illinois Central College and many parents are finishing their GED programs. All parents remain active in their children's school programs.
"This program is designed to help parents have a deeper understanding of themselves," Cornish said. They can understand that you can take charge of your life, set goals for yourself and have a plan in the morning."