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"LEADER" Online: Fall/Winter 1998

Active Parenting enters the workplace

by Colleen O'Brien

Active Parenting has helped make a valuable contribution to the lives of hundreds of employees in Labrador City, Newfoundland, thanks to the efforts of Debbie Samson, coordinator of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for the Iron Ore Company (IOC) of Canada. What began as her initiative to introduce Active Parenting programs to IOC workers has escalated into a province-wide commitment to parent education reaching even the most distant corners of this isolated region.

The iron ore mine is the backbone of Labrador City, a town of 8,500 located on the Quebec border in Northern Canada. Its residents are survivors, learning to weather long, harsh winters and at times an even harsher economy. Eight years ago, the IOC received a call for help from employees who were having personal problems. In response to this need, the local unions and IOC pooled their resources to establish the Employee Assistance Program. This organization provides assistance to employees and their dependent family members when they experience difficulties and sponsors education and prevention programs aimed at improving personal and family life.

"We try to give help in whatever form that means," says Samson, who has coordinated the program since its inception. "Because we are an isolated community and do not have every service available to us, I have to be inventive. I try to recognize the needs of the community and address them in the best way possible."

Shortly after starting the program, Samson identified a need among her clients for help raising their children. "A pattern began to emerge," she says. "And I discovered that many of the employees who were seeking my help for an addiction or divorce were also having trouble parenting their children. Their personal problems were taking a toll on their families. I knew that if the Employee Assistance Program was really going to help these parents, we had to provide them with the skills to rebuild their families."

In 1995, Samson discovered the help she needed in Active Parenting programs. "I love everything about the programs," she exclaims. "But what caught my attention immediately were the discipline skills. I know many people my age that grew up with parents who punished rather than disciplined. This didn’t feel right to me as a child so I rebelled against it. I like Active Parenting because it offers positive discipline techniques and involves the child in establishing consequences."

Samson was overwhelmed to think of the number of people both at the IOC and in the Labrador City community who could be helped by Active Parenting programs. She turned to the Child Protection Team for assistance in bringing the programs to their region. "It was an easy sell," she laughs. "Once the Team was introduced to Active Parenting Today, they decided to adopt parent education as their goal for the year."

Samson then arranged for Al Reynar, President of Active Parenting Canada, to conduct a Leader Training Workshop for Active Parenting Today and Active Parenting of Teens in Labrador City. The EAP, with the help of other community groups, funded the training, and the Child Protection Team recruited 22 volunteers from community agencies to participate in the workshop.

The response to the first Leader Training Workshop was so encouraging that Samson was compelled to form the Labrador West Active Parenting Committee. For the past three years the Committee has sponsored Active Parenting Today, Active Parenting of Teens and 1, 2, 3, 4 Parents! classes throughout Labrador City as well as Parents on Board workshops in the local schools. "The feedback has been fabulous," says Samson. "The whole community has come together in support of Active Parenting. I can’t say enough good things about it."

Apparently Samson isn’t the only one talking about Active Parenting. Word of Labrador City’s success has worked its way across Labrador, sparking an overwhelming demand for the programs. "We have had more requests for workshops than we have time," says leader David Martin, a member of the Active Parenting Committee. "Labrador is a hotbed of Active Parenting."

As a Student Services Consultant for Labrador, Martin has mandated the use of Active Parenting programs throughout the region. To achieve this goal, he and Marina Collier, a primary school guidance counselor, travel across Labrador and throughout Newfoundland conducting Leader Training Workshops.

"All we require is that the community give us one person to be trained from each of its professional agencies," says Martin. "Once the leaders are trained, the community establishes its own parent education agenda. Our network of leaders just keeps growing and growing."

Their efforts have been so successful that the Active Parenting Committee is now sponsored by a local airline, which allows Martin and Collier to fly for free to their training destinations. "We have spread Active Parenting to the farthest reaches of Labrador," laughs Martin, which is no small feat considering it takes nine hours to drive from Labrador City to the closest town. "We have made a significant impact quickly because these communities are so small. The best feeling is leaving a town knowing that Active Parenting has been put into place to improve the entire community."

Samson finds it difficult to contain her excitement as she describes the response she has received from parents. "I was working with a couple who was having difficulty communicating with their child and with each other," she says. "In fact, they had allowed their marital problems to escalate to the point that they could no longer handle their child. They separated with little hope of reconciling. After attending an Active Parenting Today workshop, the couple got back together and their child stopped acting out. These parents told me they couldn’t find enough words to explain what a difference Active Parenting has made in their lives."

Active Parenting also has made an impact at the IOC. "Many of our employees work in the mines and need to be alert at all times," says Samson. "Concentration is difficult if parents are worried about a problem with their child. Employees who have taken the Active Parenting course have gained the skills to handle these problems. As a result, they are less stressed, spend less time worrying about home and are able to concentrate more on their jobs. This results in better communication and morale, which leads to an improved work environment."

Samson’s next project is to offer the Windows: Healing and Helping Through Loss program to IOC employees. "Windows is very personal to me," explains Samson. "My father was killed in an automobile accident in 1995, shortly after we held our first LTW. This traumatic event opened my eyes to the need to learn more about how to deal with my own loss and to help my clients cope with their losses. I had a basic understanding of grief but realized that most people do not." To help her both personally and professionally, Samson decided to attend the 1997 Training of Trainers Seminar and is now a certified trainer for Windows.

She has just begun her first Windows workshop and believes it is a timely addition to the EAP’s education initiative. "I knew there was a need for a loss education program because my clients were identifying losses but not knowing how to deal with them," she explains. "I have many clients who have given up the bottle, many who have experienced death or divorce and others who are suffering from a gambling addiction. They need to recognize that these are losses and learn how to cope."

As with the other Active Parenting programs already in place in Labrador, the word about Windows is spreading fast. "I am anxious to introduce this program to the community," she says. "I am comfortable doing it because I have been there and I know that Windows really can help with the healing process. We just need to remember to look for the positive that comes out of loss."

When asked to reflect on her experience as EAP coordinator, Samson is thoughtful for a moment. "I’ve lived here for 23 years and I am proud of the way the people in this community have learned to work together for a common goal," she says. "I have a personal and professional investment in this town. Active Parenting has allowed me to improve the lives of IOC employees and families throughout the community by introducing them to parent education."

Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1998 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.