BY DEBBIE PAGE
Pointing to 17 empty places representing the children killed by their parents or caregivers in North Carolina last year, Pharos Parenting Executive Director Tonya Fowler emphasized the need to reach out to families in crisis.
“Hurt people hurt people, but healed people heal people, and we want to heal them,” she said Wednesday during the organization’s “Hope-Filled Holidays” luncheon.
Fowler said Pharos’ services are not just for just for at-risk parents.
“Every parent needs somewhere to turn, and we are here when they do. We want to be there for them.”
After operating as SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) since 1987, Fowler explained that the organization rebranded as Pharos Parenting in 2020.
“Pharos” is Greek for lighthouse, representing the beacon, or guiding light that we wanted to be for families and parents in this community,” said Fowler, who thanked the Pharos staff for the work they do with the community’s families each day.
Pharos Parenting was born out of the Exchange Club Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse efforts, one of only four such centers in North Carolina that offers the Exchange Parent Aid program, a free visitation service that provides weekly support to parents and eliminates transportation barriers.
The staff uses evidence-based methods to provide positive parenting skills, connect families to resources, and create stability with in-the-moment assistance.
Pharos also offers free weekly skills classes, including Nailed It, Parent Like a Pro, and parenting courses for parents in substance abuse or recovery situations. Workshop offerings include Best Beginnings, Parent/Teen Solutions, and agency trainings.
Pharos instructors are certified in multiple curriculums, including Nurturing Parenting, Triple P (Positive Parenting Program), and Love & Logic. The classes are free because of the generous sponsorship of Raymer Oil Company.
For court-related Family Connections, Pharos offers visitation for families with court-ordered supervised visitation, feedback and training in-the-moment, and a safe environment for all involved as they assist children and parents in maintaining a relationship in difficult situations.
Fowler said the organization’s three program areas continue to grow each year, with 528 home visits, 260 parenting classes offered, and 721 lives directly impacted through the staff’s work so far in 2023.
Ninety-four percent of parenting class graduates improved their perspectives on parenting and lowered their risk of committing abuse. Sixty-one families were connected to a parent aid, with an 85 percent success rate in that program.
Fowler hopes Pharos will continue to grow and expand its offerings, with a Fatherhood Program already in development and bilingual services. She also hope to grow their sevices geographically “so we can reach every family, no matter what they look like, where they are, or where they’ve been.”
Building strong family foundations helps prevent the need to rescue children from abusive situations in the future. “I don’t need to tell you that there’s a need for these programs in this community and every community,” she said.
Clinical Director Laurie Trosuk, who has worked for the nonprofit for 18 years, said that parenting is getting increasingly difficult because of many life circumstances, but parents who seek Pharos services hope to grow to be the parents that their children deserve.
Trosuk recounted the story of Cindy, the child of drug-addicted parents, who was prostituted at age 10 by her mother to get money for drugs. She was sexually abused by her father and uncle as well.
When her father died, 12-year-old Cindy and her five brothers were separated and placed in foster care. After leaving the care system at age 21, Cindy became an addict and had five babies. All of the children were taken into DSS custody.
At age 30, Cindy, now in a long-term relationship, became pregnant again and got clean, giving birth to a healthy daughter. She connected with Pharos to learn child development and positive parenting skills and to receive family support, including getting driver’s licenses, gaining employment, assessing debt assistance, and learning problem-solving skills.
Trosuk said Cindy and her parter now make decisions driven by what is best for the baby. With Pharos’ help, this family became safer and more secure.
“We cannot change the abuse history of the adults. What we can do is increase and strengthen the protective factors around that child,” she said.
Two years after completing the program, Cindy is still sober, her four-year old is thriving, and she is now pregnant with the couple’s second child.
In a video presentation, Pharos clients talked about learning positive parenting techniques and anger management, communication, coping, and compromise skills through their programs.
They reported feeling respected, comfortable, and loved by Pharos staff as they were empowered to be positive parents to their children or grandchildren.
Comedian and North Carolina native Michelle Miller McNair, after an entertaining routine about her dysfunctional family, got serious when she explained her comedy gives her power and agency over her difficult childhood.
Her father is still an alcoholic and her mother remains involved substance misuse, McNair said. She credited her salvation to her sibling, who removed her from the chaotic home when she was 12. She credited God with sending her the right people at the times she needed them.
After giving birth to her premature son in a difficult first marriage, McNair was clueless about how to be a mom after her own experience being abused, neglected, and beaten, she said. She reached out to the county she lived in for help and was connected to monthly parenting support.
“I don’t know where I would be or who I would be without that organization,” said McNair, who said hers and her sister’s children will be the first generation in their family to never be hungry, abused, or exposed to addiction.
McNair credited organizations like Pharos with stopping the generational curses of abuse without experiencing shame or guilt about the past. When she wanted to be the best possible mom for her son, McNair reached out for help, and she urges others to do the same.
Now McNair and her second husband are raising a son and twin daughters, who are successful students and athletes.
By telling jokes, McNair said she “takes victory from her life story.”
Director of Development Anna Campbell thanked Chairman’s Circle Sponsors Bobcat Doosan, Iredell Health System, Express Employment Professionals, Randy Marion, The Thompson Family, Reep Accountant, Sound Check Live, Michelle Miller McNair, and Victory Press Printing.
Hope-Filled Sponsors were Stocks for Tots, Sow Media, Chris Johnson Realty, Remember When Creative Photography, and Big Bossman Barbecue.
To donate to this life-changing organization, visit the Pharos Parenting website at https://pharosparenting.org.