Family Partners creates empowering program for youth

Family Partners creates empowering program for youth

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  • Photos by Viktoria-Leigh Wagner From left, Family Partners volunteer Ashley Hohmann, Breakfast Club member Jenny Sysyn, FSO Marketing Director Derek Pivko, FSO Community Outreach Specialist and Youth Coach Dawn Maffetone, Family Partners volunteer Nicole Helewa and Project Self-Sufficiency intern Rebeccalynn Kearney are shown.

  • Volunteer Nicole Helewa is shown at the entrance display at Family Partners in Newton. Helewa completed the display using flower pots this past April

  • Volunteers Nicole Helewa, left and Ashley Hohmann play the board game,'Clue,' with FSO Marketing Director Derek Pivko and Family Partners Community Outreach Specialist and Youth Coach Dawn Maffetone.

For any young person who has ever struggled with a mental illness or disability, two volunteers at Family Partners of Sussex and Morris — a Family Support Organization — have taken the reigns in uniting those who deal with mental challenges in a fun, healthy environment in the creation of their ‘Breakfast Club.’

The club meets with teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 21, twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. until noon July 15 through Aug. 21 and offers prizes for attending. Parents who wish to stay for the duration are invited to participate in “Operation Parent Project,” which is “designed to give moms and dads real tools and resources for dealing with today’s problems, like bullying,” said Dawn Maffetone, the Community Outreach Specialist and Youth Coach at Family Partners.

Nicole Helewa is an incoming senior at High Point Regional High School. She’s been volunteering with Family Partners for about five years. Her mother, Executive Director of Family Partners Rachel Helt, got her involved.

“There are a lot of youth groups I work with at Family Partners,” she said. “As a leader, you have to learn how to step up to guide each group. Although the ‘Breakfast Club’ has still only just begun, it’s nice to see some of the more non-social kids talk, open up and try to get involved with the other members.”

Ashley Hohmann, a recent graduate of High Point, decided to spend her summer volunteering with Family Partners before starting college.

“Geared toward the youth of today,” she said, “the goal of the group is to better ourselves and others. We work on socializing and teamwork skills. I, myself, have been learning how to plan and organize meetings.”

Maffetone said she helped create the curriculum for the Breakfast Club last year.

"But to be honest, I gave Nicole and Ashley a concept for the group and they created something better than I could ever have imagined," she said. "They came up with themes for each meeting day, how each theme could be used to empower someone and what type of skills individuals could build on in relation to the theme.”

Maffetone, who has been event-planning for more than 20 years, says she is blown away by both Helewa and Hohmann’s professionalism.

“If anything, my greatest gift is recognizing genius when I see it," she said. "Nicole and Ashley are going to have to do my job when I retire.”

Maffetone said Family Partners provides support, education and advocacy to families of children who face challenges, whether the disabilities are emotional, behavioral, mental health intellector or developmental.

"We provide services, resources, workshops, educational opportunities and support groups for parents and families, as well as for kids,” Maffetone said. “We do a lot of fun things, too, there’s value in that. We’re trying to give families the skills they need to face challenges. Our tagline is, ‘Families Helping Families.’ Everyone that works here has raised a child with challenges. When we provide guidance, we’re speaking from experience.”

Jenny Sysyn, 21 of Wantage attended the ‘Mystery Day’ Breakfast Club meeting July 24th. Sysyn was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder at 13 years old.

“I’ve been dealing with a mental illness for a long time now, so I figured coming to ‘Breakfast Club’ meetings would teach me some skills to deal with my symptoms," she said. "Living with it has been very difficult. I experience anxiety, visual hallucinations and intrusive thoughts.”

Sysyn said she regularly receives Emotional Transformation Therapy treatments and takes medication to help her control her disorder.

“Things have been going very well for me," she said. "Being in this group with Family Partners is very uplifting. I first heard about it from my parents, and this is my second year coming. It’s given me the opportunity to meet with people and make new friends.”

According to Maffetone, the ‘Breakfast Club’ attracts about 10-15 kids on any given night, but 30 kids total are in the program and actively attend. Additionally, the ‘Breakfast Club’ spent Aug. 5 at the Sussex County Fair and paid the entry fees of each member who has attended at least two club meetings.

The ground is level when people walk in the door," she said. "We all face challenges, and every day we learn to deal with those challenges in a better way. We try to help kids recognize the gifts and talents that they have, and most importantly, build on those strengths.”

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