Pinelands Regional Program Helps Strengthen Area Families

Apr 19, 2017

Seven local families took part in a ceremony earlier this month to mark the completion of their involvement in the Strengthening Families program offered by Pinelands Regional School District’s School Based Youth Services. “This free, seven-week program brings caregivers together with their children for dinner, followed by evidenced-based programing designed to increase familial bonds,” media liaison Allyson Roberts explained.

“Pinelands SBYS understands the importance of parental/caregiver involvement in the lives of their youth and continuously promotes programing to foster that.”

Strengthening Families typically accepts about 10 to 12 families per session. Each family includes youth ages 11 to 14, and the youngsters must attend Pinelands Regional Junior High School or a sending district.

“This program generates time for families to get together to focus on each other,” said Janel Gonzales, SBYS site coordinator at PRJHS. “This time is important, especially for teens and pre-teens who are becoming more independent, yet still need guidance and support to make healthy decisions.”

As Roberts noted, “Participating families arrive at the district at 6 p.m., where they are served dinner. Then, the parents/caregivers and children are separated. Each group – the parents/caregivers and the children – learn about topics such as how best to communicate with each other, drugs and alcohol, goal setting, etc. The groups then come back together for a final hour of learning as a family unit.”

Jessica Gomez, who attended with her 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter, said she feels more confident in her decision-making as a mom as a result of engthening Families. “Everyone could benefit from this program,” she remarked. “Every week you come out with something. You are using the tools you learned for things like holding family meetings and making a checklist for chores.”

Angelina Carter, 13, said the weekly sessions helped her make adjustments to her own behavior, such as maintaining a more positive tone of voice. “I learned how important it is to show respect to others and to always have kindness,” said Carter.

Strengthening Families was originally supported financially through the state of New Jersey, but since that funding disappeared, the Municipal Alliance Committee of Little Egg Harbor, Tuckerton and Eagleswood has helped keep the program alive.

Pinelands School Based Youth Services, meanwhile, is funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and the school district.

Families interested in signing up for the next Strengthening Families session should contact Gonzales via email at

For more information, call Pinelands SBYS at 609-296-5074. —J.K.-H.

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