In a time of economic challenges and a declining population in Berkshire County, early education services offer an increasingly valuable resource to families.
WAMC took a closer look at the work The Family Center of Northern Berkshire County does, and the impact it has on the community the center serves.
“Our family center serves all families of northern Berkshire County, so any family that has a young child from birth up to age 8," said Amy Hall. She's the program director of the Family Center, a part of Childcare of the Berkshires. “We do a lot of different things here, we have a lot of fun. We help children get ready for school. We really value parents as their children’s first teacher, and we try to teach parents how to be their child’s first teacher so that the child can be ready for school.”
“I’ve gotten to meet friends and other moms here," said Tina Utter, who spoke to WAMC at the Family Center during a family activity. She's a stay-at-home mom in North Adams. She has a daughter — Mackenzie — and another on the way.
“When I first got pregnant with Mackenzie, I used Healthy Families — which is, I believe it’s through Childcare of the Berkshires still, funded by the same place — that was an excellent resource for me since I didn’t have family and they were like my cheerleaders and they got me through and gave me wonderful parenting tips,” said Utter.
Utter took advantage of the Parent-Child Home program, which delivered books and toys to Mackenzie on a weekly basis.
The Center covers 11 towns in northern Berkshire County, and around 350 families benefit from the activities and resources it provides. Some of their resources include home visits, parent education classes, and play and learning groups. These programs are available free-of-charge for participants.
“We have some funding from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, and they fund our school readiness activities primarily," she told WAMC. "We also have funding from the Massachusetts Children's Trust, and that funds us to help strengthen families in general for our Family Center activities.”