By Jon Schroeder
The Cove Herald
On the surface, there’s nothing that special about Super Fun Tuesdays, weekly events being put on at the Central Texas Armed Services YMCA Family Center in Copperas Cove.
Walk into the room, and it’s easy to see dozens of parents, nearly all mothers, are enjoying the company of their young sons and daughters.
But there’s more going on than meets the eye.
There are building blocks set up to play with, toys and children’s picture books for the youngsters to investigate. On one side of the room is a craft table, where the kids create a different, themed piece of artwork at each weekly session.
What is less obvious is each of the workers is professionally trained — master’s-level social workers and registered nurses from the New Parents Support Program out of Fort Hood to talk with the mothers and play with the children, and Military and Family Life Consultants mingle as well, seeking out parents who may need extra attention.
All are at the YMCA to support these new parents, nearly all of whom have a spouse in the military, some deployed. These families have specific challenges ahead — deployments, the uncertainty of military life and frequent moves are some of the most common.
Doreen Vasseur, program activity director at the YMCA, says the event is a “win-win” situation for the YMCA and for Fort Hood, where families of soldiers are helped in legitimate ways as the YMCA gets its name out through the programs.
“We support them in any way that we can,” she said, adding that the YMCA is trying to become more family friendly, even adding “Family Center” to its name in the recent past.
The direct goal of the Fort Hood workers is simply “to create an atmosphere of fun,” said Leah Jones, a Fort Hood NPSP social worker who attends the Tuesday event and a similar Wednesday one, also put on by NPSP.
But Jones says there are benefits across the board. The children, many of whom haven’t interacted with other children much, learn social skills.
The parents develop friendships and become resources for each other, as many of them are members of military families going through similar situations. And then, of course, there are the social workers, nurses and consultants, who bring their expertise to the table in dealing with families in the free program.
The Military and Family Life Consultants, in particular, are there to help — the MFLC counselors help those who are having trouble coping.
Their consulting is free and confidential; no records are kept so that families can come to them without negatively impacting their loved ones’ military careers.
“A lot of these moms are so young,” Jones says, adding that the sessions and the interaction “make the difference.”
Sue Croft, a NPSP nurse at Tuesday’s event in Cove, said attending a few of the sessions makes an appreciable difference in a child’s behavior, even at the age of 3. Noting that many of the kids who show up aren’t really “socialized,” she says, “these kids are going to want what they see. They’re going to be grabbing.”
After a few weeks, many of the more withdrawn will begin to interact more and the less socialized will begin interacting better.
For many mothers who come, giving their kids some interaction with other kids is the main reason.
“We do some things, but (Fort Hood is) a small town,” Jessica Lewis said as she watched her daughter Hannah, 2, playing.
She said the most important thing that comes from the groups is the interaction her daughter is getting with other children.
As a result of the trips, she’s seen her daughter become more outgoing.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7475.