LEWISTON — Jenny Taylor loves Hope House. As a single mother of three, she’s gotten help and advice, education and free items through the center.  Hope House’s founders, Bruce and Jan Willson, taught her how to better deal with her young son, who has developmental disabilities.

“They’re a godsend,” said Taylor, who lives in Lewiston.

On Tuesdays, Taylor and other parents get a new Hope House service to love: a parenting class and support group right in Kennedy Park.  

“This is sort of our territory here,” said Jan Willson. “We want
to come to Kennedy Park and bring services directly to the community.”

Parents in Park and Playground Pals will meet in Kennedy Park every Tuesday at 4 p.m. this summer.

The Willsons founded the nonprofit Hope House in 1994 to offer a variety of services to young
mothers, many of them teenagers or single parents. The center holds classes and support groups on single mothering,
birth preparation and building healthy relationships on Mondays and
Wednesdays. It also throws seasonal parties and
baby showers and gives away clothes, diapers and food from its Barely Used

The Willsons thought a Kennedy Park class would be more convenient for area parents with young children. They also hoped it would help new immigrant parents living nearby.

“I think people who are new to the country are lonely. It gives them a chance to get together and find support,” Jan said.

For the first session in the park, Jan gathered with a group of six mothers, one grandmother and one father underneath a tree while Bruce played frisbee with their children. Jan offered parenting tips, from how to discipline children to how to
comfort them. They also passed out items to help
parents of young children survive the summer, including free
toothbrushes, toothpaste, Band-Aids, sunscreen, soap, combs and tissues. Parents also got a treat of their own — a chocolate bar.

Another week, the Willsons planned to give out pots, pans and utensils to attending parents.
Jan hopes some of the center’s free services and goods will attract new parents during these tough economic times.

To attract parents from other cultures, the Willsons also used books and pictures to communicate during the park’s class. They have plans to bring in translators in the upcoming weeks.

“Among the refugee
group, there are a lot of people groups and a lot languages
represented,” Jan said.

Taylor, who is well-acquainted with the Willsons, also recommends the park program others.

“It’s definitely more convenient,” said Taylor, who also attends the Monday and Wednesday classes.

Free child care is provided during each class in the park. On Tuesday, the kids were also treated to snacks while they played and planted flower pots in the play area.

For the first class in the park, Willsons and their volunteers brought enough supplies to pass out to 35 parents. Eight showed up,  braving the rain to attend.

The Willsons hope for a bigger turnout next time. 

“Hopefully, we can blame at least a part of it on the weather,” Jan said. 

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