Four toddlers sat around a child-size table in Family Success Center of Cape May County on a recent Friday morning, making ice cream sundaes out of Play-Doh as their moms knelt behind them, engaged in conversation.
The Family Success Center of Cape May County, on Route 47 in Rio Grande, is a neighborhood gathering place where any resident can go for support, information and services. It is open to the public Monday through Friday, and all services are free.
It's a place where parents can come to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee while their children play. It's a safe place for teens to hang out, watch movies and play games. It's a place where parents can work on their resumes or job search without having to worry about or entertain their kids.
The center has two computers with free Internet access, a printer and a fax machine, an on-site food pantry open every Tuesday and daily activities for the families, including a weekly toddler play groups, parent support groups, family game nights and movie nights, homework help clubs, nutrition classes and safe-sitter certification courses and much more.
The staff bases the programs on the needs and interests of the community, said family resource advisor Pat Rocanella. "We're a total reflection of what the community wants," Rocanella said.
Program Manager Allison Raisch said the Family Success Center's mission is to help strengthen families in any way they can.
"The Family Center is here for anybody to walk in our doors with any type of problem and we'll try to help them out as best we can," Raisch said.
The facility is the first in the Cape May County, but one of several sprinkled throughout the state. It opened in January 2012 and is sponsored by Cape Counseling Services, in collaboration with Atlantic Cape Support Organization.
Aside from hosting free, fun and social activities for its families, the Family Success Center staff also helps to link families with the support and service they need.
The center has working relationships with countless service agencies available throughout the county, such as Cape Assist, a substance abuse prevention agency, CARA, the Coalition of Rape and Abuse, and the Christ Child Society, which serves at-risk and needy children by making sure their basic needs are met. The staff sits down with the family members to create a Family Success Plan, listing goals they will work on over time.
"We don't just give them a piece of paper with the name of an agency on it and send them on their way," Rocanella said. "We'll advocate for them and work with them."
Erma resident Stephanie Baba, who attended at the Family Success Center's Friday morning toddler play group with her 2-year-old daughter Addison, said the center is a place where she and her daughter can both come to socialize.
"It's like one big family," she said.
Rocanella said the Family Success Center is something Cape May County needed for a long time, and it serves a great purpose.
"We have an unusual place here. You never know who's going to walk through the door, but all are welcome, whatever your need."
Contact Elisa Lala:
Family Success Center of Cape May County
Where: 1046B Route 47, Rio Grande behind the Social Security Administration building.
When: Hour of Operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For info: Call 609-778-6226 or visit them on Facebook, where a full calendar of events is listed. All services are free.
Food donations sought:
Family Success Center of Cape May County is in need of donations to fill its free food pantry. Donations can be dropped off at the center during business hours listed above.