Navigating parenthood

The M.V. Family Center helps strengthen Island families.

Kaylan Look with her husband, Dan, and daughter, Ruby. Kaylan credits some of the Family Center programs for helping her when she moved to the Island. — Maria Newton Thibodeau

Kaylan Look was five years sober when she moved to Martha’s Vineyard. She arrived with her husband, an Island native, and their 5-month-old daughter, Ruby. It hadn’t been an easy road. 

In 2012, Kaylan’s first daughter, 7-year-old Kiara, died in a tragic car accident. Kaylan was six days sober at the time. When she found herself on Martha’s Vineyard, still sober and with a new baby, she looked for ways to connect with other parents. 

“I knew we were supposed to be here,” Kaylan said of the Island. “But I didn’t know anybody.” 

She heard about the Martha’s Vineyard Family Center, a facet of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which offers discussion groups, playgroups, and other free activities for parents, children, and families on the Island. 

“I looked it up and went that week,” Kaylan said. She attended Baby’s First Year, one of the center’s many offerings. 

“It was almost like they were expecting me,” Kaylan said of the center. “It was very comfortable. I remember sitting down, having coffee, and being able to talk with other people who felt the exact same way I did — sharing just how difficult being a new parent is.” 

Topics ranged from infant feeding to sleeping, to day-to-day development in a child’s first year. But beyond that, the group gave Kaylan a sense of community. 

“I still talk to many of the women I met in that first session,” Kaylan said. “It formed the circle of friends that I have and that I know I’ll have forever. You share deeply — which is hard to do on a small Island.”

Kaylan’s story represents hundreds of others who’ve benefited from the M.V. Family Center, which is funded by the Department of Early Education and Care and Children’s Trust Massachusetts, a Boston-based nonprofit committed to ending child abuse in the state.

“We’ve been funding the M.V. Family Center since 1995,” said Sarita Rogers, Children’s Trust deputy director of programs. “But our role is more than of a typical funder.”

The Children’s Trust provides training, grants, resources, research, and curriculum to the M.V. Family Center, and family centers like it throughout the commonwealth. There are similar centers in North Adams, Greenfield, Orange, Cambridge, and Medford, and on Cape Cod, according to Rogers.

“We are a statewide organization, and our goal is to end child abuse by strengthening families,” Rogers said. 

Rogers touched on recent research that shows how families can be strengthened through five protective factors: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social-emotional competence of children. Protective factors mitigate risk and promote healthy development and well-being, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. “We’ve built programs to build protective factors in families,” Rogers said. 

She also explained the notion that being a parent today is harder than it used to be. “It’s all about these natural networks of support,” Rogers said. “Close neighbors, living close to family — that’s not how life is structured these days. You may live in one town, work in another town, and your kids go to school in another town. Our family centers help rebuild that natural network of support for families.”

Kim D’arcy is the M.V. Family Center program coordinator, and Heather Quinn is the director of early childhood programs for M.V. Community Services. They’ve seen a number of Islanders, like Kaylan, benefit from the Family Center, which is located on 35 Greenwood Ave. in Vineyard Haven. In addition to Baby’s First Year, programs include All Families Touched by Adoption, Bilingual Storytime, Dad’s Gym Time, Learn with Me, Move with Me, Outdoor Playgroup, Parent Advisory Committee, Parent Education Workshops, Stroller Skate, Messy Playgroup, Discovery Fridays, Barn Buddies, and more. 

“Our programming shifts in response to the needs of our community,” D’arcy told The Times. “We ask for a lot of parents’ feedback to make sure we’re meeting what families want and need. Our programs are ever-changing in response to what’s going on.”

According to D’arcy, the Family Center served about 700 Island families last year. They also served 75 percent more grandparents compared with the year prior, and 145 percent more bilingual families.

Programs are offered almost every day of the week, and the center collaborates with local libraries, schools, churches, and businesses to tap into as many local families as possible. Target ages for children are 0 to 8, including the prenatal and pre-adoptive period, and childcare reimbursement and transportation are provided upon request. The center also has its own food center, swap shop, and lending library.

Over the past 30 years, more than 300,000 families in Massachusetts have benefited from Children’s Trust family centers, according to the Children’s Trust website. Each center must go through a competitive bidding process to demonstrate its ability to carry out the work. “We just recently completed another procurement round, and we’ll be funding the M.V. Family Center for another five and a half years,” Rogers said.

“When you visit other family centers in the state, it’s interesting how different and unique each center is,” D’Arcy said. “It shows we’re being responsive to what’s happening in our own communities, and making the center our own.”

The M.V. Family Center receives about $73,000 in grants from the Children’s Trust annually, according to Rogers. Children’s Trust grants come through federal funds from the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention Grants Program.
“You feel like nobody understands what you’ve been through,” Kaylan said. “But the Family Center made me realize how much I have in common with other parents — people who haven’t even struggled with addiction. I am a valued member of society, and the Family Center gave me space to be accepted and loved for all of my past.”