Being a single, forty-something mom with a 1-year-old can be an isolating experience, especially for a new parent.
Carolyn Fok, 46, wanted to take parenting classes and learn how to deal with her son Conrad's attachment issues. But the Walnut Creek mom had a hard time finding anything — free or paid — that fit the bill.
Then, at the beginning of August, she attended an open house at the Monument Community First 5 Center in Concord. The program there had been shut down for a couple of months due to lack of funding and was just getting rolling again thanks to help from the social services agency, Aspiranet.
Fok found parenting classes, play groups and a staff knowledgeable about local resources — all without paying a dime.
The small but colorful center on Clayton Road serves families with children under the age of 5, offering classes and workshops designed to educate parents and prepare children for kindergarten.
The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Joining is free and open to all. Parents simply register for a six-week program, selecting their choice of two classes a week.
In addition to classes, the center also provides Ages and Stages screening for children two months and older to monitor development.
Fok said she was impressed with the developmental check, which she said was "very thorough" and administered by "top notch" staff who seem "genuinely concerned" about her and her son.
"We're trying to help them be better parents so that their childen are more ready for school," said Center Director Margaret Haller.
Word is spreading and more families are coming to the center, with around 140 currently on the books, according to Haller. To serve the diverse assortment of parents, the center offers classes in both Spanish and English, as well as reading materials and resources in Chinese and Hindi.
Many parents just need a place to connect with one another and for their children to connect too, said Haller. The center runs special events as well as regular meet-up groups like "Moms Together," "Contigo" and "Grown Ups Coffee and Books." Parents can also bring the kids any time to use the library, play and craft areas.
The October schedule at the Monument Community First 5 Center includes "Art with Daddy," "Baby Signs," "Being Your Child's First Teacher," "Dance and Movement," "Garden Science," and more.
Fok says the parenting classes have helped her better communicate with her son, and she feels like she's stumbled upon hidden treasure.
"I'm afraid to tell too many people," she said. "It's going to be so crowded when they find out."
About First 5: California's First 5 system, also known as the California Children and Families Commission, launched in 1998 and is funded by Proposition 10, the 50-cent cigarette tax approved by voters that same year. First 5 Contra Costa has five centers in the county, including Antioch, Bay Point, Brentwood and San Pablo, as well as Concord.
Did you know about the Monument Community First 5 Center? Share your experience and thoughts on the program in the comments below.