Starting Points marks 20 years of serving families

by Kate Evans

Starting Points of Morgan County is celebrating its 20th year as a family resource center offering services, resources, education, information and support to Morgan County families.

The agency is holding a community picnic on Thursday, June 13 from 4 p.m. to 6p.m. at their South Green Street location to mark their anniversary.

Starting Points staff is Executive Director Audrey Morris, Program Coordinator Cynthia Robertson, Program Coordinator Sharon Abdelaal, Program Coordinator Tina Badley, Community Kitchen Coordinator Shirley Silvers and Administrative Assistant Kerry Noon. The agency also has many volunteers that assist with their different programs.

Starting Points’ premise is providing services for families, promoting healthy parenting and families and preventing child abuse and neglect, Morris said.

There is a greater potential for abuse or neglect if families are struggling financially or living in isolation. Playgroup gives them the opportunity to meet other families.

Starting Points’ mission is to provide mentoring, education and support that helps Morgan County families become self-sufficient. Their emphasis is building and strengthening families so they can nurture themselves and their children, Morris said.

History

Morgan County Starting Points was created in 1999 with state funds to provide comprehensive services for young children and their families. Starting Points continues today with state and grant funds.

Morgan County Starting Points Executive Director Audrey Morris (right) is seen with Starting Points program coordinators Tina Badley (left) and Sharon Abdelaal (second from left) by the sign that announces Starting Points’ 20th anniversary outside of their South Green Street location at the Morgan County Community Building.

Starting Points’ original location was South Washington Street in Berkeley Springs. The agency moved to the Morgan County Community Building at 187 South Green Street in 2014.

An early agency emphasis was teenage pregnancy prevention and providing services to address the then high teen pregnancy rate. Offering socialization with playgroups was another focus. Playgroup’s format changed over time from drop-off child care to a parent-child group for bonding and interaction, Morris said.

In 2017 Starting Points began their Project Build: Creating a Resilient Community initiative which incorporated its Strengthening Families and Nurturing Parenting programs. The agency’s goal became creating community awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the impact of trauma on families.

Future focus

Morris said Starting Points is partnering with local groups to explore the needs of grandparents and relatives who are raising children. They’ve heard that there are many in the community. Starting Points is collaborating with community groups to find out the need and how to pull together to potentially help them.

Starting Points programs

Starting Points offers a baby pantry for local families needing emergency baby food, formula, and diapers.

Community baby showers take place in Berkeley Springs and Paw Paw, Morris said. Starting Points held their first baby shower in Paw Paw in 2018 and plans another one in September.

Starting Points’ Bonding with Books literacy program provided pre-kindergarten students with monthly books. Morris said the program is being phased out since similar programs give monthly books to children.

Bonding with Sprouts occurs at each of the five pre-k sites. It teaches kids about growing food, healthy eating choices and the importance of physical activity. Morris said kids learn about a new food every month.

Preschool playgroups offer parents/caregivers and kids the opportunity to make new friends, socialize and find support.  Playgroup meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 to 2:30 pm at Starting Points’ South Green Street location.

Starting Points Mealtime Community Kitchen serves around 19,800 meals every year and has served 219,000 since it started. Meals are free, but donations are accepted. Mealtime Community Kitchen is open on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.

A budgeting and financial literacy program helps adults create healthy financial practices and goals and organize their budget and bill payments. Sometimes people are referred to them or come in on their own for help with finances, Morris said.

The Cheap Eats program teaches people how to create nutritious meals on a budget and takes place in Berkeley Springs and Paw Paw once a month, Morris said. The program includes recipe repairs to make the dish more nutritious and less expensive.

The Holiday Helpers program provides assistance for toys and clothing to families at Christmas.

Collaborations

Starting Points collaborates with Morgan County Schools and the Morgan County Extension Office on the Camp MoCo summer day camps that are held at different county schools. Programs include science, technology, reading, arts and crafts and physical recreation. The camp is free to all upcoming kindergarten through fifth grade county students and provides breakfast, lunch and a snack.

Starting Points is the fiscal agent for the Morgan County Backpacks Program and works with Morgan County Schools, community volunteers and donors to deliver packs of food to around 350 county students every week.

Starting Points also partners in the August Back to School Bash that provides schools supplies to hundreds of county students.

Starting Points’ community partners over the past 20 years have been Morgan County Schools, the Morgan County Extension Office, Shenandoah Community Health, United Way, Morgan County Partnership, the Morgan County Commission, Head Start, Early Head Start, War Memorial Hospital, Catholic Charities, Little Learners, the WV Department of Health and Human Resources, Telamon, the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center and faith communities.

Starting Points holds its annual Empty Bowls Benefit every November.

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