FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Becoming a parent for the first time can be an intimidating prospect for many people, but the Army Community Service New Parent Support Program on post stands at the ready to lend a helping hand.

That helping hand can provide information, classes, playgroups, networking opportunities with people in the same boat, freebies and goody bags, and a staff ready to listen to any concerns and who cares, according Joy McCormick, NPSP home visitor and licensed social worker.

"We have a great program," she said, adding that the program is designed to help expecting parents from pregnancy all the way up to children turning 3. "We laugh all the time because my children are adults, and I start looking at it and I think, boy, I did everything wrong -- it's amazing my babies are still alive."

She said one of the top draws of the program is the support of having "somebody to talk to that doesn't think you're crazy when you start asking questions. We are parents, we've done that -- we're willing to listen to what's going with new parents and try to understand the situation they're in. We will also be there to provide them someone to talk to. Sometimes you don't even know what to ask, but it's nice to have someone listen to you, and let you talk and laugh about what's going on."

And sometimes it's a pat on the back that makes a huge impact, according to Linda Reed, NPSP home visitor and social worker. "A lot of time it's that reassurance that you are a good parent and doing a great job, because they don't get told that enough -- you're a great mom or you're a great dad! I think they need to hear that sometimes -- being a parent is a very tough job."

The informational side of the program includes, well, just about everything new moms and dads need to know, McCormick said. The program provides numerous reading materials, follows a tailorable curriculum developed by Florida State University that has been adopted by numerous bases throughout the U.S., and offers referrals and information to off-post programs that help new parents and young children.

As for classes, the program regularly offers classes in proper installation and use of car safety seats, infant massage, baby sign language, learning through music and nutrition, she said. "It's a wide gamut that covers pretty much everything that impacts a child from birth to age 3. And outside agencies, such as Lyster Army Health Clinic, Parent to Parent and the Military Child Coalition also partner with us."

NPSP's playgroups offer an opportunity for new parents to get together, have a good time with their children and develop a network of other new parents, McCormick said.

The NPSP's playgroups provide programs and activities that enhance parent-child interactions, and stimulate child growth and development, and helps new parents develop a network of other new parents, McCormick said.

The groups include: Mom & Me: Dad Too! for parents and infants and children from birth to 16 months, that meets Mondays at The Commons, Bldg. 8950, from 9:30-11 a.m. with exception of holidays; and Tot Time for parents and toddlers, ages 17 months to 36 months, that meets Wednesdays at The Commons from 9:30-11 a.m. with exception of holidays.

Registration is required for the groups. For more information, call 255-9647 or 255-3359.

NPSP also includes home visits every two weeks in its services for on- or off-post residents, which are designed to help new parents and provide support, according to McCormick.

"We like to go into home to make sure it is safe, if the environment set up in a safe manner, if the baby is sleeping in crib correctly and there aren't things in the crib that aren't supposed to be there for safe sleeping," she said. "We want to see the children in their environment, how they are reacting, how they are doing, how things are going, and then talk and see what is going on with the family.

"We can then follow up, and provide educational sheets and explain what things mean and if this is normal development," McCormick said, adding the staff is flexible with the timing of the visits.

The program also provides goody bags and freebies, Reed said. These include a baby bundle with various items, and also for other stages of development, as well, such as a tummy time pillow for infants at 2 months to help strengthen head and neck muscles, books to help develop language and cognitive development, items to help with teething and more.

And people can take the program with them if they PCS -- the program is transferable to most installations within the Army, so parents don't have to worry about whether they will be supported if they move, McCormick added.

To find out more about the NPSP, visit the office in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 371G or call 255-3359.