Back in 1992, the Naperville Exchange Club recognized a need for some kind of child abuse and neglect prevention program.
Thus, Project HELP was born.
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"There was a need given the statistics of families with kids who were involved with the Department of Children and Family Services," said Regina Rogers, the executive director for Project HELP.
Twenty years later, the nonprofit organization is still working with families in DuPage County to connect parents and caregivers with mentoring, education and resources aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect. HELP stands for Healthy Environment for Little People.
Volunteer parent mentors are matched with families whom they work with to set goals and achieve objectives.
These can include a variety of skills, including an understanding of child development and enhancement of parenting skills, stress management, family communication, parent-child relationships and more.
Volunteers are trained, supervised and required to continue in service training. They can work with families for up to a year, sometimes a little longer if necessary, or until the family decides the goals have been met. Families are referred by schools or community service agencies who identify the families most in need of help. "We focus on families who are in a position where they need more support," Rogers said.
But the program is completely voluntary, a fact that Rogers said is essential to its success because families are actually open to help.
"The families who come to us are motivated to change," she said.
Rogers said the successful families are those who are dedicated, open to feedback and open to envisioning a greater life for their family.
"The ones who successfully graduate are the ones who are committed," she said. "The people who graduate from our program are very grateful."
Jamillah Blackwell of Roselle first came to Project HELP in 2008 and worked with the program for three years.
"I'm always open to parental guidance and new ideas," she said. "Having a mentor was invaluable to me."
Blackwell's parent mentor offered her parenting advice and strategies she uses daily.
"Now, instead of me struggling, I remember some of the things that I've learned," Blackwell said.
And even if she does still struggle, Blackwell said she maintains a relationship with her parent mentor and can call her at any time.
"She was just a great source of support and still is," she said.
Blackwell said the program is important for those who are in need of and, most importantly, who want help.
"I think it can save a lot of parents from physical, verbal and emotional abuse," she said. "Parenting is pretty difficult and challenging. Although it's rewarding, it can be difficult."