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June 18, 2022

Growing, learning and transforming:

A journey toward excellence at Watertown Family Connections

The opportunity: Weaving a web of support for families of all shapes and sizes, whose needs range from minor to acute, using nationally-recognized best practices and a deep commitment to continuous improvement.

The investment: A $170,675 grant to Watertown Family Connections to support the agency in expanding its mission and scope to best serve the needs of young families.

The results: They are breathtaking, actually. And, like all amazing visions, they are a continuing work in progress. This is a story you'll want to read to the end.

Since 1994, Watertown Family Connections (formerly Watertown Family Center), has been a welcoming hub of support for area families with newborns to five-year-olds, providing free programs and services.

Over the past two years, this organization has changed nearly everything about the way it functions–fearlessly moving toward an updated mission statement, creating and filling new roles, embracing national standards with training for staff, board and parent leaders, and embarking on a continuous improvement cycle that measures their impact on the lives of those they serve.

Oh, and they've also moved to a new location inside the TalkReadPlay Center at the Watertown Public Library, with all the strategic planning entailed in developing a mutually beneficial partnership that plays on each organization's strengths and avoids duplication of services.

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The force behind this mighty endeavor? Meet Stephanie Curtis, who joined the nonprofit in 2005 as Executive Director, and whose leadership–along with that of her board of directors–has strengthened the organization and provided guidance for its future. Curtis is passionate about building relationships across sectors to better support children and families.

"We have grown so much," says Curtis. When she first started at the family center, it focused on playgroups and parenting classes. "For the last few years, we've been building evidence-based practices, helping grow social connections, baking best practices into every program and procedure… we are adding value in ways our families don't even realize."

A new location, a one-stop shop

Change at Watertown Family Connections began with a proposal to move the nonprofit's headquarters to the Watertown Public Library. The new TalkReadPlay Center recently celebrated its grand opening as a beautiful, state-of-the-art learning space within the Watertown Public Library that combines fun family learning activities with access to a network of resources conveniently embedded. In addition to the playspace, the TalkReadPlay Center includes meeting rooms where families can connect with other community partners right within the library.  

Growing wings, as a resource network backbone

As planning for the shared TalkReadPlay Center began, the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation (GWCHF) identified the need for a resource network for families–building relationships with different partners in the community so families could have a one-stop-shop and a warm hand-off to the appropriate agency. Curtis and her organization agreed to serve as the backbone, which began a learning journey, researching national standards and best practices.  

"We realized it was an opportunity to create something even more amazing than we were already doing," says Curtis.

As part of this learning journey, Curtis and her organization discovered and embraced the Standards of Quality for Family Strengthening & Support, among other evidence-based tools. These Standards are shared nationally by family resource centers, and serve as a comprehensive framework for establishing or growing a family resource center.

The Standards serve as a blueprint for implementing best practices throughout an organization's processes, from customer service, to programming, to how they work with their board. The Standards emphasize family strengths and incorporate tools like motivational interviewing and trauma-informed practices… all proven to better outcomes for families.  

"Playgroups in the Park, our parenting classes… all of these things work together," says Curtis. "We focus on building relationships. Once the trust develops, we might learn of more needs, like a transportation breakdown, or need for diapers."

At Watertown Family Connections, staff, board and parent leadership attend training in the Standards, which serve as a roadmap as the organization continues to grow into its new mission.

5 for Families

"The evidence-based 5 for Families model is part of the national Standards," says Curtis. "It's baked right into everything we do from playgroups to parenting classes and more."

Research has shown that these 5 Protective Factors increase family stability, enhance child development, and reduce child abuse and neglect.

5 essential strengths for families:

Programs and services

Watertown Family Connections focuses on strength-based programs that use family-centered practices, and reinforce the 5 for Families protective factors. All programs and services are evidence-based or evidence-informed: