Below you’ll find the transcript of this informative interview with Christina Armstrong (she/her), Prevention Links’ Greenway Family Success Center Site Director, where she discusses what a Family Success Center is, how they’re supporting COVID-19 impacted families, and what free services they make available to the community on EBC Radio 1170AM https://ebcmusic.com
Alka (host): Today we have Christina Armstrong, she is the Site Director at Greenway Family Success Center in Woodbridge Township. The Center is managed by Prevention Links, a New Jersey-based non-profit that fosters healthy, sustainable communities. Christina is a life-long resident of Middlesex County and received her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Rutgers University. She recently returned to Rutgers and is working towards a certification in Spanish translation and interpreting. She is a member of the Prevention Links Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and spearheaded a series of cultural appreciation events at Greenway FSC, showcasing the rich diversity found in Middlesex County.
Welcome Christina on EBC Radio! After reading your bio I feel proud and privileged to talk to you today…What is a Family Success Center?
Christina: Family Success Centers are community-based gathering places where families can come for fun activities, educational workshops, and information about great local resources. Everything we do is free, every time! The foundation of our work is to prevent child abuse and neglect across New Jersey, by strengthening family relationships, and supporting those in need, we build up the whole community. There are 57 Family Success Centers around the state, and there is at least one in every county. Most are funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, and are managed by non-profit organizations like Prevention Links. We operate 5 Family Success Centers throughout Middlesex, Union and Hudson Counties.
Alka: …What services do you offer in these Family Success Centers?
Christina: Every month, each Family Success Center (we call them FSCs) put out calendars of great events including topics like Family Health, Life Skills, Housing, Employment, and Parent Education. Many of our programs are recreational, things like, STEM, cultural events, or cooking classes. These events are designed for children and their parents or guardians to have quality time together and make great memories. We also offer lots of workshops to teach people in the community about practical topics, things like budgeting, nutrition, preparing for storms, car seat safety, and much more. Most FSCs also offer evidence-based curricula, such as Active Parenting or Financial Peace University. One of the great things about our work is that each FSC is different: we all have the same foundation, but we plan our events based on what our unique community needs and asks for. So that’s one side.
The other main component of our work is to be a resource hub. People often call us to find out, for example, how to get help paying their utilities, how to find a new home, where to look for child care, and other important needs that impact their daily lives. FSCs stay connected with other organizations in our home town and county, so we can provide residents with up-to-date resources. For example, a community member might call a Family Success Center and ask for help finding a new job. One of our staff members could sit with them and review their resume, then connect them to a job-seeking program in their county. Really our goal is to help our participants succeed.
Alka: …Who can come to Family Success Centers? Are these Centers designed to only help needy families?
Christina: Actually, anyone and everyone is welcome to come to Family Success Centers and participate in activities! We don’t have any eligibility requirements, so our doors are open to all. The only thing we have is a quick membership form called a “welcome packet” that people fill out each year, but it’s very brief and it’s just so that we can help our families and get to know them better. One thing we sometimes hear is that people think that because we’re funded by the state, there’s some sort of income requirement, or that families have to be struggling to participate in our services – but that’s not true at all. We believe that no matter what your situation is in life, that it’s important to have a welcoming place to go where you and your family can have a great time together.
Our goal is to strengthen the whole community, so we really invite everyone who is interested in learning, growing, bonding as a family, and making connections with other residents.
Alka: …Do you have to have children to come to a Family Success Center?
Christina: You might think so since it is a “Family” Success Center, but we’re not actually only open to people with children. A lot of times we have individuals who don’t have children come to our crafts, cultural activities, and educational workshops that we provide.
Alka: …How does your service specifically target or serve the South Asian Population listening?
Christina: Family Success Centers are designed to be welcoming to everyone, like we talked about, and one facet is that we often put up artwork that reflects our community, whether that’s the cultures, the languages that are represented. We also love to highlight cultural events and celebrations, so, for example, it’s not unusual to see Diwali or Holi events featured on the calendar. It’s so much fun.
At our Family Success Centers, we also understand how much our participants value education. Because of that, many Centers offer Homework Help Clubs or other programs to support families in their goal of helping their children succeed in school.
Alka: This is fantastic, I mean you’re celebrating our festivals, Holi, Diwali, and just welcoming everybody and making them feel at home there.
Christina: Yes! I will say that we had a family this year at our Center that was overwhelmed and happy because they said that they weren’t able to celebrate Holi that way since they had actually been back in India. So it’s a great place for people to come and teach other people about their own cultures.
Alka: …How is your program serving COVID-19 impacted families? What needs have you seen arise since the start of the pandemic?
Christina: Family Success Centers have always supported families in getting their basic needs met by connecting them with local organizations, and by sometimes offering distributions. Once the pandemic hit, the number of families needing assistance with food, child care, and rental payments went up drastically. Thankfully, many federal and state assistance programs were put in place to help with those needs. Staff at all FSCs has worked hard to stay up-to-date with what’s available, so we can connect our participants with all of the services they are looking for. Another thing we’ve done is, most FSCs made it a point to offer events related to mental health, both for children and adults. Since we’re trusted by our community members, many people feel comfortable joining our programs and talking about the stressors they and their families have faced over the past two years. It’s been important to still give people a sense of community, (even if it’s over Zoom) so they know they are not alone.
Alka: …How has the pandemic changed the way that you operate?
Christina: Prior to COVID-19, almost all FSC services were offered face-to-face, like many things in the world. Once the pandemic hit, we knew that our Centers would need to stay connected with families, because they would need us more than ever. We had to think outside of the box and offer virtual programs that would still help families connect with each other. All across the state, Family Success Centers also started making Wellness Calls, where we would contact our participants, just to find out how they were doing and figure out what supports their families needed. In a time when many people were feeling uncertain, isolated and afraid, we wanted them to know that help was available.
Even now, like you mentioned, we are more 50/50 with online and in-person, many centers have continued to offer virtual options. We recognize that having a virtual option makes our events and services more accessible, since not everyone feels comfortable in person, and since some families don’t have transportation. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve maintained our commitment to providing really welcoming, high quality programs to everyone in the community.
Alka: …Can you share one success story with us?
Christina: One of the things about our work is that we really lean on some partnerships to make our work possible. We’ve all had to be pretty creative, especially since so many changes have come about because of the pandemic, so for us, finding other organizations have been absolutely important. At our particular site in Woodbridge Township, we saw a huge need for diapers and formula, especially with the recent formula shortage. We were fortunate to form a great relationship with the Central Jersey Diaper Bank, and through that partnership we recently started offering diapers, wipes, and certain kinds of formula to families every two months, completely free – not only to families in Woodbridge Township, but to people throughout Middlesex County. So if anyone is listening and you or someone you know needs those services, please feel free to reach out to us.
Alka: …How can our listeners locate the Family Success Center closest to them?
Christina: So there is one simple way which is just to do a Google search for “New Jersey Family Success Centers” and then there is also a website, www.nj.gov/dcf/families/support/success
One great thing to know is that residents can join more than one FSC! Our Centers work collaboratively together, so we encourage families to make the most of the services and go to as many different centers as they’d like. We do find that it makes the most sense for participants to join the centers closest to their home (or at least within their county), so if they need resources they can get connected with ones that are the most relevant to them.
Alka: …How can I give back at a Family Success Center?
Christina: We love to have volunteers help us at Family Success Centers. It’s inspiring to see people enjoy our programs so much that they want to give back. We often need help setting up for events and making flyers, but we also appreciate when people in the community have a special skill that they want to share with everyone. Do you love to read to children? Are you a financial advisor, an engineer, or a cake decorator? Reach out to your local FSC to find out how you can share your skills!