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Project Enlightenment restores parent counseling, plans celebration

This year is a little brighter for the folks at Project Enlightenment, Wake County school's early childhood center. Parent counseling has been restored.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
This year is a little brighter for the folks at Project Enlightenment, Wake County school's early childhood and intervention program.

Last year, the popular center, which offers programs and support for parents and kids ages 0 to 5, saw some severe cuts as the Wake school board sought ways to fill a big budget gap. Staffers lost their jobs. And the center's parent counseling services, which had served thousands over the years, were eliminated.

But after an uproar from parents in the community, the school board members changed their minds and found money to restore at least some of Project Enlightenment's services. On Feb. 1, the center was able to start offering parent counseling again.

Cynthia Chamblee, the center's director, said four former parent counselors who were laid off last year formed a company and won the contract to provide the services.

They are Toqui Kennedy, Michelle Chachkes, Karen Buchanan and Lynne Johnston. The four also have gone on to form their own separate businesses providing support and counseling to parents. Kennedy, Chachkes and Buchanan are part of N.C. Parent Consultants. And Johnston is part of Triangle Parenting Support. (They were all generous with their time last year and offered some parenting tips here on Go Ask Mom. You can find them in the box above.).

While four contract workers can't provide the same amount of service that the nine full-time and part-time counselors did before last year's layoffs, Chamblee says it's good to have them back.

"In two months, they’ve probably already worked with over 60 families that I know of and every day it grows," she told me.

Parent counseling is free. Project Enlightenment seeks to target families in certain risk categories. For instance, families who are low income and where the parents did not graduate from high school, were under 20 when they had their first child or are going through a crisis such as death or divorce. They target children who are at risk of being kicked out of their child care or school setting, have challenging behavior or other developmental concerns.

But it is open to all.

"We encourage all families to call and talk to a counselor," Chamblee said.

The contract also means that Project Enlightenment can add at least one workshop this year to its roster. "The Spirited Child" is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday April 14. The cost is $15 per person and $22 per couple. The workshop is for families with kids ages three to six. Registration is required by April 7.

Chamblee says this has been one of the center's most popular workshops.

"We’re glad to have them back," she said of the four parent counselors. "We did some parent workshops this year with staff that was remaining, We moved people around and changed some responsibilities so we could continue as much as possible, but we didn’t have nearly as many."

Other upcoming workshops in April include topics on kindergarten readiness and anger. And I'll add here that I have heard glowing reviews of the workshops at Project Enlightenment from friends who have attended various sessions.

Project Enlightenment marked 40 years of service last year. But plans were scratched to celebrate as staffers contemplated big cuts and layoffs.

This year, with services restored, staffers and Project Enlightenment supporters feel like celebrating.

Project Safari is set for 9:30 a.m. to noon April 9 at Project Enlightenment, 501 S. Boylan Ave. near downtown Raleigh. The Project Enlightenment Foundation is organizing the event to celebrate the center's 40-plus years of service and the National Week of the Young Child.

There will be safari-themed crafts by the Scrap Exchange, face painting, music and family activities all culminating in a children's parade at 11:30 a.m. Bring your bikes, trikes and wagons for that. The parade will be led by Mr. and Mrs. Wolf from N.C. State.

A suggested donation for the event is $5 per family. It's otherwise paid for completely with donations from a variety of local businesses.

"We’ve really had to change the way we do some things so we could get everything covered," said Chamblee, who also lost three support staff employees. "But we’ve done it and we’re good to go and I don’t think the families who come to Project Enlightenment would even recognize the fact that they've lost anything."

For more information, call 919-856-7774 and check the website. Project Enlightenment also offers a great resource center with books and educational games and activities that you can make for your child.

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