Run for Hope 5K Has a Lifetime Impact on Families

Established in 2011, the Run for Hope 5K is an annual community/family-based event hosted and sponsored by Valley Natural Foods. The goal of the 5K is to not only raise money through sponsors and race participants, but to bring local families and the overall community together for health, wellness and camaraderie. These are important values that reflect the mission of Valley Natural Foods. The race also echoes the co-op based value, “concern for community,” helping promote health not only for individuals, but better financial health for a local non-profit.

For the May 3, 2014 Run for Hope 5K race, Valley Natural Foods partnered with Early Childhood Family Services (ECFS) and raised $15,000 for the organization. ECFS is using the funds to educate families in our community on the importance and availability of healthy, local food, in addition to helping parents enhance their relationships with their children, having a positive lifetime impact.

Penny Kastner, mother of six-year-old Quincy and four-year old Cleo, and now a member on the Foundation for Early Childhood Family Services’ council, readily understands this impact from first-hand experience. Quincy started ECFS classes when she was a year old and Cleo began them right after she was born.

Kastner admitted with a bit of emotion, “It will change the way you parent. I don’t even know what kind of parent I’d be if I hadn’t completed ECFS classes. I’ve developed more skills.”

This simple, yet profound exclamation defines what the ECFS experience means to families. It is not just about helping children learn and develop, but assisting the parents too. Knowing that she wasn’t alone in her experiences as a parent helped Kastner have peace of mind. During the children’s structured playtimes, the parents would gather to discuss their joys and concerns in addition to asking any questions they might have. Kastner discussed how the open forum was a great way to bounce ideas around and to hear other opinions, along with understanding that other parents were going through the same things with their children. Kastner feels the parent classes and support groups helped her to know what to focus on to get her daughters ready for school, such as learning what is best to teach them and what not to worry about. For example, ECFS educators relieved Kastner’s concerns when she worried that Quincy may have hearing issues based upon results from an annual wellness check. However, she didn’t realize that ECFS had speech specialists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists onsite to assist with these sort of things. A speech specialist spent some time with Quincy and revealed to Kastner that she was completely fine, easing her fears.

Kastner explains that it is this care, dedication and expertise of the educators that keeps her coming back. She discussed how their motherly demeanors really help kids develop a special bond with them. Her daughters even recognize their teachers in public and get excited when they see them. Part of her daughters’ excitement for ECFS classes derives from the extremely organized, sensory, and exploratory activities they get to do. For example, Kastner’s daughters loved all of the specific learning stations the teachers set up such as finger painting, play dough or sensory activities with sand, rice, water with bubbles or even snow. All of these activities are often things that as a busy parent, Kastner does not normally do at home. The most enjoyable experiences include field trips to the fire station, nature centers, parks to go snowshoeing, and even to the grocery store.

Beyond the parenting skills and social development of her children, it is the strong, lasting relationships that ECFS has helped Kastner create that she values most. At home, Kastner said that either the phone is ringing or the washer or dryer are buzzing, which often detract from spending true quality time with her children. However, at ECFS classes, she is giving her daughters, her full, undivided attention, which helps to develop a stronger bond with them. Also, she and her daughters have developed lifelong friendships with other ECFS families.

Even when her daughter Cleo was having separation issues at preschool or at the gym, Kastner revealed that she never experienced that at ECFS classes. It is sometimes difficult to find educators that can create such a safe environment to learn in, Kastner explains.

Republished with permission from Valley Natural Foods.