BENNINGTON >> Sunrise Family Resource Center celebrated 30 years of reuniting families in the community on Wednesday. Advocates and staff members from past and present gathered on Union Street in Bennington to reflect on memories and advancements the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) has made over time.
FAP has two family advocates who work with families at risk of having a child placed outside of the home. Family Services Director Denise Main is the current supervisor for the advocates and guides them through their home visits. Advocates spend over 20 hours per week on average with families in Bennington County driving them to appointments, assisting them in getting their driver's license, securing stable housing and more, Sunrise Director of Development Amelia Silver said.
"We're the only parent-child center in the state of Vermont that happens to have this particular (FAP) service, although other parent-child centers have created services that are a little bit similar to it," Sunrise Executive Director Linda Dean-Farrar said. "We have had this contract from the Department of Children and Families for 30 years, never changed in terms of its location and has tremendous wealth of really talented and gifted staff people who have been parts of it for short and long periods of time."
FAP's major goal is to reunite parents with a child or children and advocates have made strides in doing so by conducting 1,340 home visits in 2015. The program has served 50 families, secured stable housing for 20 families, and provided 600 rides for those without transportation, according to Sunrise's annual report.
"FAP was the first program like it is in the state [when it started] and before it was the pre-placement prevention program," Charlie Jingo, retired district director of the state Department for Children and Families (DCF) said. "The focus of the work, back then, was actually unique that it was long-term work with families to make an effort to keep them together and to keep their children from coming into state custody."
Clinical Psychologist Louis Propp works with FAP advocates once a week to add to Main's supervision assistance and has been a part of the program since its birth.
"I hear the advocates that come in and they're in the trenches because they have to go in the houses and deal with various other things that happen so I get to hear them talk about the difficulties of dealing with some families that have never even connected with any of the community resources," Propp said. "They try to advocate for them [families] in some way to be able to better their lives and to be better parents and utilize services. I try to help them feel good about what they're doing. I've enjoyed working over the years with a lot of different advocates."
Other titled services that Sunrise offers include Caring Dads Workshops, Early Care and Education Program, Child Care Resources and Referrals, Dads Create, Intensive Family Based Services, Job Club, Parenting Education, Prevention Education, Reach Up Case Management, Teen Parent Education, and Youth Development Program for Teens transitioning from foster care.
Silver traced back to her training days in becoming an advocate prior to her current position. Retired director Janice Lerrigo, who also has been involved with Sunrise since FAP's beginning, trained Silver along with Main to become advocates.
"The degree to which family center practice was completely integrated into their [Lerrigo and Main] practice and their training of the staff was really not like anything else," Silver said. "I think I'll be imprinted for life with that, a way of seeing families, on their own terms, looking at families from the inside out. Not losing the objectivity in a sense that you have a responsibility to help them manage in the world that is not their family. I'll never look at any family the same because of my experiences."