A Welcoming Place to Play — and Find Support — for Cayuga County Families

At the Health Foundation, we truly enjoy highlighting our grantee partners and the amazing work that they do. Here is a spotlight from our 2021 annual report: Connections.

The importance of play in the overall health of children is well-documented; play helps children explore the world around them, develop social, motor, and language skills, and bond with family members and peers. As part of our mid-term goal that children have access to high-quality social-emotional learning support, the Health Foundation is supporting an innovative program in Cayuga County that offers families a safe, fun place to play while also connecting them to resources for vital early childhood services: ABC Cayuga Play Space.

ABC Cayuga is a nonprofit organization that began as a community collaborative headed by the Allyn Family Foundation in 2011 with the goal of improving the healthy development of young children in Cayuga County. In 2012, ABC Cayuga collected input from parents, caregivers, and providers to learn more about the needs of the families they serve. They found that parents struggle with isolation and desire more places to connect with other young families and community resources.

“The top request we heard from families was a safe place to bring children to play,” said Nancy Tehan, Executive Director of ABC Cayuga Play Space. “We wanted to start there and create a welcoming environment where families would want to spend time.”

As a result, ABC Cayuga adopted the Strengthening Families model developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP). The program is grounded in five protective factors: parental resilience; social connections; knowledge of parenting and child development; concrete support in times of need; and social and emotional competence of children.

Using this framework, ABC Cayuga opened the Play Space in 2017 to provide resources for early childhood learning and development while allowing parents and caregivers opportunities to meet with service providers and other parents in a safe, fun environment.

In 2021, the Health Foundation provided a grant to ABC Cayuga to hire a Community Liaison to help families determine when they need services, connect them with the appropriate resources, guide them through the process, and follow up to ensure their needs are being met.

“We take a parent-led approach of listening and learning about what kind of resources and information the families need,” said Nancy. “We are proud to have built relationships with service providers throughout our community, and we want to make sure all of our families know about and can access those resources.”

Community Liaison Jill Hand joined the Play Space team in late 2021, and is developing relationships with both families and children and the community’s network of early
childhood resources.

“We are seeing a lot of families who are concerned about their child’s development, especially for those young children who were born during the pandemic,” said Jill. “Recently, I met parents who needed early intervention services for their child, but they didn’t even know where to begin. Connecting them with the right resources to get the process started, and guiding them through that process, is exactly what we’re trying to accomplish in the Play Space.”