FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Leah Lorenzo watched as her 2-year-old son, Keane, ran about a converted classroom Monday morning, choosing from the various toys strewn about the room.

And as Lorenzo kept a watchful eye on her son, she also took time to catch up and chat with other Fort Jackson parents.

Lorenzo is one of several parents who venture to the Pinckney Elementary School Annex each week to combine the children's play time with some adult interaction at the New Parent Support Program's play group.

Lorenzo, who has been attending the group since October, said play group has helped with her son's social skills.

"He used to be really clingy, but since we started participating in the play group program, he has become more independent," Lorenzo said.

The play group, which is for newborns to 4-year-olds, is just one of several programs aimed at providing Army families with the tools they need to maintain a healthy family.

Tamica Doby, one of two NPSP social workers, said that the programs are meeting an important need within the Army family community because they help families cope with feelings of stress, isolation, pre- and post-deployment issues and the demands of parenthood.

"We often have heard from military family members that they feel isolated. This gives them a chance to get out, and meet other military family members and network within the Army community," she said.

The NPSP was able to expand much of its programming Armywide under the Army Family Covenant, which provides funds for various on-post, quality-of-life programs. On Fort Jackson, the funding provided through the Army Family Covenant has allowed the NPSP staff to create new programs - such as C.O.A.S.T., a quarterly orientation for new spouses - and expanded others, such as the play group.

Janet Cox, also with the NSPS, said that programs like play group are important to the well-being of families stationed at Fort Jackson.

"We have heard from spouses that Fort Jackson is not a family-friendly post, but often the problem is that they are not aware of all the family-orientated programs available to them," Cox said. "By coming to play group (the spouses) meet other family members and find out about more family activities."

Amanda Dake, another parent, said she appreciates the on-post activities.

"Usually our family is stationed in more obscure locations that don't provide programs like this, so I am enjoying the opportunity to participate in the program," said Dake, who attends with her 2-year-old twin sons, Zachary and Ryan.
Lorenzo agreed that the on-post program was beneficial.

"There are other play groups off-post, but they are expensive. Here it's free, and you have the chance to interact with other military spouses," she said. "Now that I know that the program is available, I definitely plan on joining another play group when I PCS to Hawaii next year."

Cox said that there has been an increased demand for play group since program began last January. That demand has led the NPSP to add another day to playgroup. Play group now meets 10-11:30 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

An evening play group for Soldiers and their children, which is scheduled for the fourth Wednesday of each month from 5-6:30 p.m., has also been added.

"Participation is high, and we have a tremendous amount of support from the moms who are a part of the program," she said. "At times we feel like we are outgrowing our play room because the program has been so successful.

For more information about play group and other NSPS programs, call 751-1071.