A day of fun… and more

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

When the Plainville Family Fest began four years ago, the goal was to provide a whole day of free entertainment to families while bringing the community at large together.

Since its inception, Family Fest has done just that while growing in attendance every year. Organized by the Plainville Early Learning Center, the Plainville Family Resource Network and Plainville Public Library, the all-day event attracted 1,400 people last year, said PFRN Coordinator Donna Cavallaro.

“Last year, we had an all time high of 1,400 people come through, so we have been growing every year,” said Cavallaro, noting how word about the event has spread through word of mouth. “It’s been getting larger and larger.”

From Touch-A-Truck to a mobile petting zoo to a photo booth and blow-up slide, the 4th Annual Plainville Family Fest will feature a variety of free activities provided by 34 organizations this Saturday (May 20) from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Linden Street School. Participating organizations also will provide information about what they offer to the community.

Every child who attends the event also will receive a free book.

“It was our mission to have an event that all families could come to that was free. That was our mission from the beginning—to build the community in Plainville,” said Cavallaro, adding how parents appreciate the event every year. “We wanted to give back to our families.”

Family Fest is not the only upcoming celebration for PFRN, as this September marks the program’s 20th anniversary. Located behind Linden Street School, PFRN provides educational programs for children from birth through elementary school age as well as programs for childcare givers and parents.

Since its inception, PFRN has formed many community collaborations, which has helped provide diverse programming for Plainville families, said Cavallaro during a Board of Education meeting last Monday. Among PFRN’s services include Play and Learn Groups, which provide social and language development opportunities to children from birth to age 5, and the Parents as Teachers program, which provides education and support to families from pregnancy through age five. Besides monthly Pre-K developmental screenings for Plainville children ages three to five, PFRN also offers family field trips and guest speakers.

Last Monday, a handful of families shared the kind of impact PFRN has made on their lives with school officials, including Maria Samaniego, who attends English classes at the Plainville Adult and Continuing Education Program while her 20-month-old-daughter is engaged in structured play at PFRN.

“Learning English has been very useful in my daily life,” said Samaniego, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years now. “It is also very important for my children who are getting the support they need.”

For parents like Michelle Chaput, Kylie Sepko, and Sara Wartonick, PFRN not only has provided guidance and support for their families, but also a sense of community.

“One big benefit of the playgroup is that it builds a sense of community,” said Sepko, adding how her children has made many social connections through PFRN.

“By joining the playgroup, I was able to meet a lot of people that would become part of my every day life,” said Wartonick, adding that PFRN teached children the ‘fundamental skills they need to prepare for preschool.’ “I was able to facilitate relationships with people from the start, making the transition to school much smoother. It also made it easier for me to become involved with the school and joining groups, such as the PTO.”

Currently, PFRN’s enrollment includes 139 parents and adults, 56 infant and toddlers, 56 preschool-aged children and four school-aged children, said Cavallaro during her presentation to the board. Cavallaro noted how families served by PFRN have diverse needs, including single parent households, households in which English is not the primary language, and households that are at or below state poverty levels.

The stories she hears firsthand from PFRN families are what Cavallaro said keeps her going every day.

“We want to make a different in people’s lives, and that’s what drives my passion for what we do,” said Cavallaro.

Later that week, PFRN and its families joined other family resource centers at the capitol for an ice cream social event to voice their concerns about the impact of Governor Dannel Malloy’s proposed FY 18 budget. Funded primarily by a grant from the Connecticut State Department of Education, PFRN has been “level funded at just over $100,000 since 1997,” said Cavallaro.

To date, said Cavallaro, PFRN experienced a $6,500 loss in state funding, and could face “much larger cuts” in next fiscal year’s budget.

However, on a positive note family resource centers were reported to have the most testimonies and continue to advocate at the capitol, added Cavallaro.

After visiting Hartford, Cavallaro said taking part in the advocacy event reinforced her belief in the importance of “building those strong foundations for future school success.”

“We need to keep on contacting our legislators and make sure that we are getting that message to them,” said Cavallaro. “Without our voice, we may not have the results we would like.”

For more information about PFRN or Plainville Family Fest, visit linden.plainvilleschools.org/family-resources.