By Charlotte Prong Parkhill
Kitchener Post staff
Irene LeBlanc and Mark Hewko had their hands full as they raised their four children.
But after suffering alone through some communication problems with their oldest son, they were determined to create a better relationship with their second child, Jacob, age 8.
That’s when they turned to the Family Centre.
LeBlanc and Hewko, along with Jacob, took part in a program called Strengthening Families at the Centre each Monday night for 14 weeks. Hewko was skeptical at first.
“I thought, sure I’ll go. They’re not going to tell me anything I don’t already know,” he said.
But by the end of the program, they’d seen a change in Jacob, and a more positive dynamic for the entire family.
“For Jacob, it’s been a complete turnaround,” LeBlanc said.
He was a quiet boy who would bottle things up until he would explode.
“We’ve seen amazing results with him. He’s better at identifying and talking about his feelings with us, and with his sisters,” she said.
The family would show up each Monday night for a communal dinner with other families, then the kids would go off together, while the parents would get together in another room to learn effective parenting skills.
“You think all these problems are just yours, and then you find out you’re not alone. Your head stops twisting around with all the things you think you’re doing wrong,” Hewko said.
“Plus, it’s just nice to spend family time together.”
The program is offered out of the 60,000-square-foot building on Hanson Avenue that is managed by Family and Children’s Services (FCS) of Waterloo Region.
The centre has been open for about a year, but recently celebrated its grand opening after staff settled in and got the programming started.
The bright and cheerful space is decorated with colourful artwork, some of it created by children in foster care.
There’s a large gym, a central café space, children’s playrooms, a teen hangout area and plenty of meeting space.
In addition to FCS, tenants and partners using the space include KidsAbility, the Alliance for Children and Youth, and World Wide Opportunies for Women.
There are YMCA settlement workers available who speak Arabic and Somali. The centre also houses Blairview School, a Section 23 school for harder to serve or high-risk students.
There are also spaces that can be rented out to community groups, and the Kitchener Public Library is running a kids’ club out of the centre this summer.
Making the Family Centre a place for all families, not just those in crisis, is part of the plan to remove the stigma of the FCS, says co-ordinator Cameron Dearlove.
“Looking at prevention, and at intervention, we’re somewhere in the middle,” he said.
“We’re doing the work that keeps families strong and healthy and is really focused on the well-being of children.”
LeBlanc and Hewko say they’ve learned a lot about the roles within a family and healthy communication. But they’ve also relearned that it’s important to take time out in their busy lives to focus on their kids.
For them, reaching out for help was a big step in getting a fresh start.
“You don’t have to feel like you’re struggling alone. People need to know they can ask for help,” Hewko said.
“When I was a kid nobody helped me, and nobody asked for help. We didn’t want to see that happening with our own family.”