• From left, Clara Ottum, Dennis Andrews, William Case, Jacob Kasmarski and Ellie Case share a laugh over snack time at ChildWise.

    BARREL OF LAUGHS

    From left, Clara Ottum, Dennis Andrews, William Case, Jacob Kasmarski and Ellie Case share a laugh over snack time at ChildWise.

  • Ellis Ottum handles a pack of puppy dogs at ChildWise while her mom chats with other parents.

    PLAYING WITH PUPS

    Ellis Ottum handles a pack of puppy dogs at ChildWise while her mom chats with other parents.

  • Ellie Case watches the other children play from a quiet corner at ChildWise.

    QUIET CORNER

    Ellie Case watches the other children play from a quiet corner at ChildWise.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Sometimes Cindy Reiman just wants to go where everybody knows her name - and her kids.

Trucks, blocks, balls and other children's toys scatter the floor of building 1413 as kids run from room to room, greeting their friends and indulging in the occasional fight over a toy shopping cart.

Cheez-Its, Goldfish and animal crackers are the food of choice, juice boxes the perfect refreshment, and every adult in the room is eligible to tie a shoelace, throw away a Kleenex or replenish the snack bowl. To the outsider, the ChildWise building during Play Mornings may appear to be anything but an oasis, but for moms like Reiman, it's just what the pediatrician ordered.

"It's a nice, safe place where you can go and feel a connection," said Reiman, who has been attending Play Mornings since her oldest daughter, now 6, was born. "I just needed to connect with some other folks."

Connecting is the whole point of Army Community Service's New Parent Support Program's Play Mornings, held weekly to give moms, and the occasional dad, the chance for adult interaction.

From 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, kids are given the chance to be kids, and parents the time to be adults. Open to anyone with access to the Arsenal with kids up to age 5, the program gathers a diverse group of moms from every country and rank, united by a common thread - the military and their children.

"They quickly bond with each other because they have each other," ChildWise staff member Anne Kelley said. "They're all in the same situation and they can lean on each other. They all have stories of things they've been through and what they're doing to get through."

"I needed some support, someone to talk to as an adult," Reiman said. "The rank thing - never. We all want our kids to have that experience of friendship."

As the kids bond, so do the moms. For Charlene Cox, program manager of the New Parent Support Program, the rewards of Play Mornings for parents are two-fold. Not only do moms get the chance to take time for themselves, they get to take time with their friends.

"Don't forget yourself," Cox advised to all parents. "You've got to have time for you. You're a person. You've got to have adult conversation... It's always better to hear it from another mom. They're a close-knit bunch. They take each other under their wing and take care of each other."

Play Mornings are just one aspect of the Department of Defense's New Parent Support Program that helps provide an instruction manual for the most important item parents have in their home, their children. From educational programs, to home visits by Cox, free baby bundles and referrals for various services, NPSP helps to ease the worries and stressors that accompany a new parent's life from pregnancy to age 3.

"It's stressful enough to be a new parent," Cox said. "It's stressful enough to be in the Army. So what happens when you put the two together'"

Unlike Play Mornings, NPSP is only open to active duty, activated National Guard and Army Reserve parents. The program, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in February, is present on every military installation, so that as parents move from one location to another, support is already ready and waiting.

"It's very comforting to know that once you start a program with a client, they're not dropped just because they move to another installation," Cox said.

Since the program's inception in 1995, instances of child abuse and neglect have dropped, Cox said.

"Do we prevent it' No. But I'm sure our numbers decrease dramatically," she said. "We give them whatever they need."

A voluntary outreach, the program begins with a screening to determine the family's need, followed by two beginning visits, one to talk about the basics of caring for a newborn including feeding and diapering, and the second to discuss safety. From there, parents choose how involved they would like to be in the program and how Cox can meet their needs.

"I try to establish a relationship," said Cox, who looks at many of the program's children as her own grandchildren. "I want to be their ally and their friend."

In that role, Cox provides advice, a listening ear, helping hand, or simply a shoulder to cry on. Whatever it may be, Cox steps in to help via phone, e-mail, home visits and even Facebook. She is particularly aware of the needs of new parents whose spouses are deployed.

"I'm here so you don't get on the phone to your husband and say, 'This isn't working. I can't do this,'" she said. "Because what does he get' A big bull's-eye on his forehead and the foreheads of his comrades because he's worried about you at home and not thinking about his own safety and his mission. I don't want him to worry about you. You are important to me and I do care that your loved one is deployed and I'm here to help."

For more information on the New Parent Support Program, call 876-5397. Play Mornings are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the ChildWise building 1413 on Nike Street. Play Mornings are open to anyone with access to the Arsenal that has a child up to age 5.

Page last updated Fri April 23rd, 2010 at 16:11