Community Problem Solving team is hoping what they establish will help their community, long after they have graduated from high school.
At the end of his career as an assistant public defender in Flagler County, Irwin Connelly realized he had represented generations of families since the mid-1970s. As he sat in court, next to the children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren of his initial clients, he started asking, “why?”
“It didn't take long to realize that the key lies in the first three years of a child's development,” Connelly said. “Study after study confirms that those first three years are crucial, and if good parenting doesn't occur in those years, then it is unlikely that, by age five or so, deficits in language, cognitive and social skills can be corrected.”
Connelly said he is “pretty obsessed by the whole subject” and there is a sense of “quiet desperation” when he thinks about the possibility that a potential genius newborn (even if born into poverty), who is not stimulated and exposed to language, cognitive and social input, will likely remain in poverty, and continue that cycle.
So Connelly went back to school, Flagler Palm Coast High School, and shared his obsession with Diane Tomko’s Community Problem Solving class.
“He came in as a guest speaker for the whole class,” Zameena Phillips, one of seven students who decided to make Connelly’s project their own. “He is very hands-on with the project, and his is on the board for the (George Washington Carver) community center.”
“We all immediately thought, “yes, we want to be involved in this,” Danielle Stoughton said.
“Mr. Connelly is our project mentor. He comes in almost every week to talk with us,” Julie Hok said. “He’s been studying the problem a long time, and trying to make a policy.”
The project was named L.E.A.D. Children (Love, Engage, and Direct) and the seven girls quickly realized they had hit upon a hot topic in the community. The group is also working with Abra Seay, coordinator for Flagler Schools Early Childhood Education.
“We figured a lot of people who need the help don’t’ look for it,” Katherine Espinoza said. “Some don’t know what they are supposed to do."
“We want to do parenting classes on how to handle crying,” Danielle said. “How to cuddle with your child, and create an interaction and bond with them.”
Pulling in an impressive amount of community support, the team is working toward the major event of their project – a child fair at the George Washington Carver Community Center in Bunnell, on Saturday, February 4, 2017.
The fair will be a one-stop place for everything from vaccinations, screenings, proper car seat installation, and other services some families may not be aware of.
“Most parents don’t look for resources,” Julia said. “This is basically the resources coming to them, in one accessible place. Many are working and it’s a way to sign up for services that are generally only open 9 to 5.”
The event will also include food provided by Publix and Olive Garden, and vendors like a reading circle with the Dolly Parton Foundation, the Early Learning Coalition, Healthy Start, Help Me Grow, and health services from Memorial Medical Hospital in Daytona Beach.
The group also hopes to have drawings for car seats, strollers and other items. A lot depends on how successful they are at fundraising, whether it be financial or donations of new items.
“The main goal of doing this as a project is to break the cycle,” Zameena said.
To learn more or make a donation:
Team members are:
Julie Hok, Zameena Phillips, Danielle Stoughon, Katherine Bereznicki, Katherine Espinoza, Sara Barnes, and Lischna Castor.
The group thanks:
Kim Kania, Early Learning Coalition, Abra Seay, Carrie Baird Flagler Cares, Irwin Connelly, Gail Birney nurse Florida Memorial Medical hospital, Diane Tomko, John Birney Jr. Chamber of Commerce, Publix, Olive Garden, and many more that have helped them help others.