PROSPER Aims to Strengthen Families         

There are only two lasting bequest we can hope to give our children; one of these is roots, the other wings.

                                                                     -Hodding Carter

            Whenever I reach a milestone or complete a major project, I like to take time to analyze and reflect upon all of the events. I can attribute this in part, to the reaction of my 10th grade social studies teacher when I stated, “Why in the world do we need to know this junk anyway?” His response, “Did you know that if we don’t study history, we are doomed to repeat it?”

            Over the last year I have shared via this column and numerous other newspaper articles, about the Strengthening Families/PROSPER project I have been involved in at the Littlestown School District.


            Under the umbrella of PROSPER, a volunteer advisory team composed of Littlestown parents, community partners, youth, school personnel, and myself became part of a Penn State University grant funded research project. One of the long-range goals was to introduce a quality, research based program into the district, and to study the affects of the program as well as assess the long-range community sustainability.


            There were a myriad of duties that the advisory team was assigned. We had to identify the curriculum to offer to the families of Littlestown, identify quality personnel to present the material, get the facilitators trained and certified in presenting it, and finally, deliver it to the families.


            In May of 2002, our team evaluated three program offerings, and picked the strengthening Families Program to introduce to Littlestown. The quality of the material was the number one determining factor for our choice.


            What makes SFP unique is its blend of content and delivery.  Over seven weeks, families attend seven two-hour sessions. For the first hour parents and youth attend separate and specific hour long classes, they then come together for the last hour for family related learning.


            Well, last night was one of the milestones along the way. I was fortunate to sit in on the graduation of the last set of families that participated in this year’s program. In total, there were 39 families that participated and graduated from SFP since January. Last night during my long drive home, and then again as I sat on my deck listening to the trickle of the fountain in my little pond, I had plenty of time to reflect back upon this year with PROSPER and SFP in Littlestown.


I had plenty of material to evaluate, and as my mind raced from item to item I was left with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction, satisfaction on so many levels. The facilitators, the advisory team, and I all knew that the material was good.  Most of us were trained over four days on the content and delivery of the curriculum. We lived it as we learned. We knew that it would work, and we knew that we were going to be able to provide parents and youth more tools to be successful in their respective families and in their interactions with their peers.  


There are two ways of spreading light:

To be the candle or the mirror that reflects that receives it.

                                                                        -Edith Wharton


Most of my personal reflection went to comments that parents and youth shared with me directly, as well as comments and feedback they provided on a program ending survey they all completed. The first indicator that stuck out to me is the fact that almost 100 percent of the participants took time to not only complete the survey, but to actually write additional feedback about the program.


Call me skeptical, but participants in training and education programs are usually willing to circle a number or a given response to a question, but not as willing to take the time to write a personal response. You get the percentage of response that we we did when there is a personal “buy-in” or commitment from the participant.


The dedication of these families to make a commitment to attend a new program, all in the name of becoming better equipped to deal with today’s issues is heartwarming and commendable.


I knew when the Littlestown Area School District bought into this project, that there was a commitment to the youth and families of this community. LASD exhibited that commitment every step of the way. From the use of the facilities, the flexibility of their staff, and support of everyone I have come into contact with at Littlestown. It was obvious to me that this was a school district doing more than providing education between 8 AM and 3 PM.


Part of the program offering was that we were to provide meals for our families. I must admit that the budget amount for meals wasn’t that large, as well as the fact that the meals needed to be provided three nights a week over 14 weeks. Thanks to the Littlestown band parents for supporting this endeavor. This committed bunch of characters were committed enough to provide most of our meals during this 14-week run.


We identified, screened, and trained 22 individuals to assist with delivering our program. Hiring and managing a large group of consultants can cause a little initial concern regarding quality control.


The facilitators of this project, all with ties to the community, and most of which are professionals working for the Littlestown School District, have been outstanding. They not only made my job of managing this project easy, they made it enjoyable. The feeling I got watching them in training and in action with their families was worth the hard work.


The future is looking bright in Littlestown. Next year the 7th graders will receive life skills training in school as a continuation of this program. We will also offer the Strengthening Families Program to the families of the 6th graders starting in January of 2004. This program will be free of charge to all 6th grad families in the Littlestown School District.  


I tend to get sentimental at times and I refuse to make excuses or apologize for this characteristic. Over this past year, I have been fortunate to become connected to a great group of people in Littlestown. From the advisory team, the school district, the facilitator group, the band parents and the parents and youth that participated in SFP, all played a part in my personal development.


Although I do not reside in Littlestown, as a parent, I hope and pray that my daughter has this level of commitment from the people of her community.


Littlestown, thank you for letting me be part of your community and I look forward to working with you and PROSPER next year.




Edward J. Bender is the 4-H Coordinator serving Adams County. Penn State in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA, phone 334-6271 or 1-888-472-0261, office e-mail