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Dawson group offers relaxed atmosphere
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Anyone with young children knows theres nothing like an evening spent relaxing with other adults, talking about the joys and stresses of raising kids. Add a free dinner and free childcare, and its like paradise.

Thats the idea behind the Parent Caf.

Dawson County residents who are raising babies or young children through the age of 5 are invited to meet each month at Bethel United Methodist Church for about an hour. Not only do participants share each others experiences and compare notes, they get to talk with other invited guests who have expertise in different aspects of child development and parenting support.

The idea of facilitating informal, casual conversations for parents and other guardians started with Growing Bright Stars, a team Family Connection pulled together to address kindergarten readiness in the community. The team includes a kindergarten teacher and representatives of the Adult Learning Center, the Department of Family and Children Services, Wee Books, the Chestatee Regional Library System and other organizations. Team members have at least one major thing in common: They all see a need for the community to focus more on the early childhood years.

Growing Bright Stars sponsors the get-togethers, while Nancy Stites, Dawson County Family Connection director, coordinates them, bringing in the people and resources she believes will be valuable to those parenting young children.

Parents, grandparents and other guardians have an opportunity to ask questions and learn from experts about a variety of topics, such as evaluating a preschool or day care facility; making the most of reading time with young children; mental health, behavioral issues and discipline; and early learning strategies.

Stites usually arrives with stacks of pamphlets and other take-away information on resources available in the community for those who need some extra support.

Lynda Cromwell, who is raising her 4-year-old granddaughter Frankie Adcock, has been to all the Parent Caf meetings so far and says shes thrilled with what she gets out of them.

There are so many resources out there I didnt know anything about before this started, said Cromwell, who already has taken advantage of some programs and services that benefit Frankie. Shes eager to learn more about how to help her granddaughter experience success when she enters kindergarten next year.

The program is young and still small, Stites said. We hope it will continue to grow. Stites encourages those raising children 5 and younger to attend the next Parent Caf and tell their friends about it. We need to get the word out that this is available.

The Parent Caf is usually held the fourth Tuesday of each month. Those wishing to attend the free program should call 706-265-1981. Schedule changes are likely during the upcoming holidays.