By Jessica Hanewinckel
Before Lee Gould had her two twins, Sasha and Aimee, she thought Jewish Family Service was designed solely for clients in crisis. That wasn’t her, so she assumed she would probably never find any personal benefit in JFS’s services. Then, as she attended events with her girls organized by the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center’s Shalom Baby or PJ Library, she began noticing a new presence: Pachie’s Place, a program of Jewish Family Service for expectant and new parents (and even grandparents who need a refresher course in childrearing).
The program helps these clients navigate their children’s first five years. By definition, new parents are novices and starting from scratch, and therefore could always use some pointers and assistance as they find their way with their babies and young children. So at Pachie’s Place, “JFS client” doesn’t have to necessarily be someone in crisis (though new parents might feel that way sometimes).
“When I joined [Pachie’s Place] in going to the Purposeful Play [workshop in August, designed to show parents how to enhance the fine and visual motor skills in young children, and directed by a certified pediatric occupational therapist],” Gould says, “I realized that what they are trying to do is much bigger, and that was when I started to understand a little bit more about what Pachie’s Place is about.”
Pachie’s Place officially began last June, after an anonymous donor came forward with the funds to make it possible. (His own grandchildren lovingly call him “Pachie,” the word that starts the Yiddish version of “Patty Cake.”)
“This was a gap in our services when we looked across the board,” says Dana Toppel, divisional director of JFS’s clinical and educational services. “We’re one source for a lifetime of help, and we really saw we were serving families in crisis, we were serving families who needed counseling or food, but [not serving] parents of kids 0-5 years old [excluding JFS's Positive Parenting Program and other curriculum-based contracts]. There aren’t a lot of services [that assist with navigating that], and we certainly weren’t providing them. That was the catalyst for the program.”
JFS brought on board Naomi Rabkin, an educator, organizer, activist and mother of two daughters, ages 4 and 6, as the program’s supervisor. Lauren Pearl, an elementary school educator and mother of a 2-year-old daughter, joined the team as the program’s child development specialist. Both women can personally relate to the goals of Pachie’s Place because they’ve been where their clients are.
“I had not heard about services like this when I had my babies,” Rabkin says. “I was in a new community, and I didn’t know what to do. I’m educated, and I have resources and access to things, but we are all starting from scratch when we have our children, and I thought how valuable it would have been to have a place to connect with other parents, and really get that information and support, and, most of all, just to run by all the different questions and fears and insecurities and then to really be much better informed.”
Both women work together in both a planning and coordinating capacity and in a hands-on, client outreach capacity, explains Pearl. They frequently partner with other programs within JFS as well as external programs and organizations in the community, like Shalom Baby and PJ Library.
“Ultimately this program is going to be a resource for parents,” says Rabkin, who adds that though it’s open to all and isn’t a religious or Jewish education program, it does have Jewish elements and is dictated by Jewish values. “It’s really going to be a place for parents to learn and grow and share and for children to play in a supportive and creative environment.
“It’s a way to really help parents be a lot more proactive and not have to scour everywhere. We really want to be the hub for parents to get that information, to get those connections and to get that support.”
The cornerstone of the program is its workshops, which have included everything from “Baby Boot Camp” (surviving the first six months) to “Purposeful Play” (enhancing fine motor skills) and “Growing Healthy Kids” (getting kids to eat a variety of real foods) to this month’s “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” (about counterbalancing the influence of the “girlie-girl” culture; see sidebar).
“What makes these programs different,” Toppel says, “is that there’s really a dialogue with the parents and the ability to connect. There are other services out there, like at the hospitals, but it’s kind of curriculum-based. You kind of get whatever spin that particular provider is putting on the class. Any people we work with provide a range of parenting styles or feeding styles or sleep training styles, so parents can pick and choose. It can be really overwhelming when you jump online or you go to a class, and you hear if you don’t do it this way your child will grow up to feel like you didn’t take care of him or have anxiety or something. It’s got to work for you. So the program is really about helping people find the tools that work for them, which is rare in programs.”
In addition to the workshops, Pachie’s Place also includes a resource list on its Web site for new parents, a Facebook page and a blog, which is updated regularly by Pachie’s Place blogger Leah Singer and by a variety of guest bloggers who are knowledgeable in their fields.
“For people in this demographic and population, online interaction, relationships and information are very high in importance alongside face to face interaction,” Rabkin says. “We wanted to make it one of our priorities very early on and have a whole social media strategy that speaks to our demographic of people who are incredibly busy, who may only have time to think as grown ups past 8:30 p.m. … and I think that’s really going to grow and expand.”
Since beginning, Pearl and Rabkin say, they’ve received more feedback, suggestions and commentary from clients through their social media portals than they’d ever anticipated, and they love it.
“We often learn a lot,” Rabkin says. “It’s almost like a case study or a focus group. We learn what parents are interested in, and I think it will continue to inform even our workshop content. It’s really a way for us to talk to the community, even when we’re sitting at home at our desk and they’re sitting at home at their desk, we’re interacting with parents all over the community in that way.”
• Costs of Pachie’s Place workshops and events vary, though any fees charged are nominal, and some workshops are free. Locations are around the county (though Rabkin and Pearl say their goal is to eventually make Pachie’s Place a physical space somewhere in the county with workshop space, a meeting room, a children’s activity space and an informal socializing area for parents). They’ll hold a workshop on preschool selection from 5:30-7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Carmel Valley Library. In January and February, they’ll hold a series of three workshops on developmental milestones. (Dates and locations have yet to be determined.) Pachie’s Place is always looking for new ideas for workshops, blog posts, community support and other community input. For more information, visit www.pachies.com or call (858) 637-3068.
Stripping Cinderella of Her Crown
Though Pachie’s Place has been holding workshops and other programming for new and expectant parents since June, Nov. 13 will mark its official launch event, which it hopes to make an annual occurrence with a big-name speaker. In conjunction with Congregation Beth Israel, it will welcome Peggy Orenstein, author of The New York Times best-seller, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.” Orenstein, a journalist who “The Columbia Journalism Review” has named one of its “40 women who changed the media business in the past 40 years,” will explore the consequences of the new culture of girlhood for children and their parents, from premature sexualization to the risk of depression to rising rates of narcissism. And if you think the event isn’t designed for parents of children 0-5, not so, says Pachie’s Place’s Naomi Rabkin.
“This inculturation happens so early that it’s easy to think it’s cute and go along with it,” she says. “It’s very much accepted in our culture, but I think she’s saying, ‘Hey, pay attention, look at how these images are being presented at this young age when it’s not quite so obvious.’ And I see it with my daughter. She talks about the Disney princesses a lot. It’s hard to avoid. It would be almost impossible to completely shield them from the princess world.”
It’s even an issue for parents of young boys, she says, because it reinforces gender stereotypes and a divided gender culture, and it affects a child’s whole notion of relationships and his role in the world.
But Orenstein will arm parents with awareness and recognition and offer advice and insight so they can head off Cinderella (and her posse of Belle, Snow White and Jasmine) at the pass.
Orenstein will speak from 5-7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Congregation Beth Israel, 9001 Towne Centre Drive, in San Diego. Tickets are $18 per adult and $12 per student or educator. Childcare and children’s dinner during the event are $5 per child age 2-10. Required registration is at www.jfssd.org or at (858) 637-3068.