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Parenting program graduates new class

Healthy Families, a program that provides support and resources for new parents, celebrated another of its graduating classes Wednesday.

Three of the four students and their families were in attendance — one was unable to make it due to health complications.

After comments from the organization’s team and a few tears, the children received their diplomas and backpacks donated by Farmers Bank.

The program assists parents from infancy up to the child’s fifth birthday.

“We want to make sure the children are healthy and ready to learn when they go to school,” said Beverly McQuarry, the program’s team supervisor.

In addition to parenting education resources, family support workers make frequent home visits to facilitate child and parent development.

From left, James Holloman, William Runyon and Ja’leah Knight are among this year’s Healthy Families graduating class. The program has assisted more than 480 families with parent and child development services.

From left, James Holloman, William Runyon and Ja’leah Knight are among this year’s Healthy Families graduating class. The program has assisted more than 480 families with parent and child development services.

For the last 16 years, Lisa Godwin has served as one of the program’s family support workers. She has learned to remain objective as possible with her clients.

“You have to be calm and can’t be judgmental,” Godwin said. “You have to build trust.”

The families enrolled in the program for different reasons. But the common denominator was they all needed a support system during their new journeys into parenthood.

Christina Runyon, one of the mothers in the program, needed help navigating through a devastating time with her son’s health. William, Christina’s son, faced three major surgeries before his second birthday.

Gabrielle Looney also faced a tumultuous period, combined with dropping out of college and financial woes.

Healthy Families came to the rescue during their most vulnerable moments. The bonds established between the families and support workers have blossomed into lasting relationships.

“I couldn’t imagine how things would have gone without Beverly’s help and Lisa’s smiles,” Looney said. “Lisa is like a second grandmother to my son.”

Looney was so impacted by the program she decided to join the advisory board to “get involved with helping someone else.”

Since 1997, the Suffolk Healthy Families program has served more than 480 families. The program, which is free of charge, currently serves families in Isle of Wight County and the city of Suffolk. The program was made possible by the Western Tidewater Health District, Sentara Obici Hospital and several local agencies and organizations.

According to McQuarry, in response to recent program funding, Healthy Families hopes to expand its clientele by catering to any new parents in the area, not just first-time parents, which is currently required. However, parents must enroll children before they are 3 months old.

For more information or inquiries about Healthy Families, contact McQuarry at 514-4738 or at beverly.mcquarry@vdh.virginia.gov.