Chippewa Falls’ young residents have known for 25 years that High Street’s purple building has been a safe place for their fun. It is bright and sunny, with lots of colorful toys, an alphabet-bedecked rugs, and pint-sized furniture.
Although it looks like a child-care centre or kindergarten classroom, River Source Family Center serves a different purpose. Since 1997, River Source had pursued a mission of strengthening “families with young children by promoting growth through education, information, referral, and opportunities to share experiences.”
All families need support. Families need to communicate with other families.
parent services director, River Source FAMILY CENTER
What does this mean in practice? It means Play & Learn sessions, full of one-on-one play, learning activities, and crafts. It means Movin’ & Groovin’ music classes, which little bodies and brains stretch and grow. It means Baby & Me playgroups, Parent Café evenings, home visits from parent educators, and much more – all of it meant for kids aged birth to 5 and their parents or caregivers.
The nonprofit organization’s programs are all aimed at forming bonds between young kids and their adults, as well as among different families. River Source welcomes families from all walks and income levels.
“All families need support,” said Becce Woestman, parent services director at River Source. “All families need to talk to other families.”
Being a parent to young children can be a difficult and lonely time in life. This is especially true if the child is new to the area. Woestman explained that River Source can be a great venue for families to meet other families at the same stage.
“My all-time heartwarming moment is when I see friendships bloom,” Woestman said, who recalled recently seeing two young mothers, both new to town, exchanging phone numbers at a River Source session.
River Source Family Center was created in 1997 as a program of the Family Support Center, a Chippewa Falls-based nonprofit that’s focused on supporting survivors of domestic and child abuse. Like a similar organization based in Eau Claire – the Family Resource Center, which serves Eau Claire and Dunn counties – River Source Family Center provides free programs to strengthen families.
During the height pandemic, the center relied on virtual programming and other outside activities. But, since earlier in the year, in-person programs have been back, and the response has been positive. Woestman stated that River Source programs have been attended by 219 children and 128 adults since July. This is almost as many people who participated in River Source programs during the entire pandemic.
The organization is a nonprofit and is supported through grants from United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley, the state Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention Board, a Mayo Clinic Health System Hometown Health Grant, as well as other donations.
River Source is a partner with many agencies around the area, including WIC and Early Head Start, public librarians, hospitals, and other health professionals.
Although based in Chippewa Falls the River Source Family Center provides services to all of Chippewa County. They also offer rural Play and Learn sessions, in Stanley, Bloomer and Cornell, so that more rural families can benefit from their programs.
While today’s parents have much more information about parenting available to them, they face the same challenges as previous generations of parents: Children don’t come with instructions, and each one is different, Woestman noted.
While Woestman said she sometimes calls the agency the area’s best-kept secret, its approach isn’t a secret at all: Using children’s natural interests to teach them and their adults.
“‘Play is learning’ is our big thing,” explained Amanda Rygiel, a family connection facilitator at River Source. Although play groups are intended to be fun, educational goals are also a part of their design.
And that makes them enjoyable – and effective – for everyone involved.
“I have such an appreciation for this age group and these families,” Woestman added.
Learn more about the River Source Family Center at riversourcefamilycenter.com, by calling (715) 720-1841, or by searching for them on Facebook.