By Alyssa Martino, Contributing Writer
Region – Two years ago, when the state decided to merge the Massachusetts Family Networks and the Community Partnerships for Children Grants, Cynthia Arroyo didn's panic about what might happen to her job as grants administrator for the partnerships.
But perhaps the reconfiguration was a blessing in disguise for Arroyo, who stepped in as the director of the newly formed Together We Can Family Network (TWCFN), now run by the YMCA.
TWCFN is committed to the mission of “creating a system of outreach, education and support for families with young children,” according to its website. By offering weekly programs for parents and children, the network hopes to strengthen community ties while also promoting early literacy.
In order to do so, TWCFN holds daily playgroups at their new location at 246 Maple St. in Marlborough, where they relocated during the summer. Families from nine surrounding communities and from any socioeconomic background are welcome to attend the groups.
The playgroups have been in existence since before the merger, Arroyo said.
“We try to offer between two and three per day at the center. They'se for all ages.”
She explained that attendees range from babies to 6-year-olds.
Although all of the groups have a focus on early literacy, TWCFN also tries to incorporate other fun activities or specializations.
“We have a “Fun with Food” group,” Arroyo said. “”Just Messing Around” is a group for preschool-age-appropriate science activities. We also offer “Intro to Science.””
Not every playgroup meets at the center in Marlborough – a few are held outside on walking trails.
Sometimes, the outdoors comes to TWCFN. For example, Drumlin Farm once brought animals for the kids.
“I don's have a satellite program in each town,” Arroyo said, “but we serve nine communities, not just Marlborough.”
As a result, Arroyo tries to bring activities to each town's library.
“I try to get out into each community,” she said.
Despite the variety of themes, all playgroups include “circle time [where] “we sing songs,” she said. “We also always have a book related to our weekly theme. And there's always a snack together. They all follow that same format.”
In addition to official playgroup times, TWCFN's center holds drop-in hours, where families can come play without the structured group.
“Parents can come and utilize the space,” Arroyo said. “It's another place to go that's not their living room.”
Although literacy is incorporated in each playgroup through weekly books and other methods, Arroyo believes strongly that there is another draw for parents: making connections.
“It's our hope that families can carry on the connections they make as their kids move onto kindergarten and the public school system,” she said. “[We want them to] make friends for life.”
TWCFN is also a way to encourage parents to help their children learn to read at an early age, even outside of the center.
“It's important for families to read every day,” Arroyo said. “We try to promote that parents are their first teacher, and we encourage them to have faith in themselves and that what they do every day is best for their child.”
As for Arroyo's past position as grants administrator, she may not miss it so much.
“I have more of a personal relationship with the families in my job now,” she said. “Now that I see them face-to-face almost every day, it's even better. I get hugs from children and see them evolve over the weeks they'se with us.
“I know that TWCFN is making a difference in their lives, and it's completely wonderful to see.”
Since their move to the new location on Maple Street, TWCFN playgroups have registered 25 new families. But there are still openings left. Sign up at www.twcfn.org/fallreg.html.