Kids Matter—Naperville’s Partner in Parenting

June 2013 View more

N2013_06_01_062NEIGHRaising children in today’s world can be a real challenge. Our busy lifestyles leave little downtime for ourselves or our children. Studies show that increasing demands in our lives are leaving our children more stressed out than ever before. Whether it’s academic or social pressure, such stress can cause depression, anxiety, and lead to a myriad of destructive behaviors if left unmanaged.

That’s where KidsMatter comes in. Founded in 1995, KidsMatter began as an outgrowth of an Edward Hospital initiative called Naperville Youth Development Coalition. This group proactively addressed the needs of kids to support healthy childhood development. In 2001, KidsMatter became an official nonprofit and one of its volunteers, IdaLynn Wenhold was tapped to become executive director. Under her leadership, KidsMatter has become a driving force in offering positive proactive support to families in our community.

“Our mission is to help develop all youth in Districts 203 and 204,” Wenhold explains. “KidsMatter is a very unique organization, we are really recognized as a community bridge—a connector tying social service agencies, schools, and government agencies together to meet at-risk concerns.”

Based on research from the Search Institute, Wenhold says there are 40 developmental assets that help young people make good decisions and grow up to be caring and responsible adults. “These 40 assets can be grouped into eight categories. We focus on four that we as adults can help kids with,” Wenhold explains. “This includes positive communication, setting positive boundaries, offering support, and encouraging constructive use of time.”

Supporting parents and children

KidsMatter holds several annual events to support Naperville kids. The Spring Job Fair connects students with seasonal and summer job opportunities and in the fall, KidsMatter hosts a Student Volunteer Fair. They also sponsor the Last Fling Skaters’ Picnic, the Naperville Area Youth Service Awards, and in April, a fundraising concert called Ignite the Night, featuring student performances at Wentz Concert Hall.

Reaching parents and kids through the schools

Working closely with Naperville schools, KidsMatter brings speakers and workshops to the classrooms. “Trying to maintain balance is not easy. Things that sound like common sense are not common practice anymore,” said Wenhold. “Our parent empowerment workshops give parents practical tools to restore their families back to balanced lives—such as basic how-to steps to create time for communication.” Recently, KidsMatter worked with the schools and Naperville Police Department to present a community-wide cyber safety effort called “Your Digital Footprint Matters!”

Parents Matter, too

One of KidsMatter’s latest initiatives, “Parents Matter”, is a response to the drug issues facing our young adults. “We discovered that when parents first became aware of their child’s problems, they didn’t initially walk into a counselor’s office,” Wenhold explains. “They turned to other parents and the internet as their first sources of information.” This collaborative effort, now being tested at Neuqua Valley and Naperville North, includes the creation of a website with critical information, a speaker series, and parent empowerment groups. “We’re really excited about Parents Matter and creating a network of caring, concerned parents who are committed to regularly challenging their children’s choices.”

As a mom of three grown children, Wenhold identifies with the challenges facing parents. “Speaking as a mom, I know there is no perfect family—we all struggle. KidsMatter is all about celebrating kids and families and enabling them to realize the enormous possibilities available to them,” Wenhold continues. “I find it so gratifying to see parents sit together in a circle and gather strength from each other. If I had to sum up the organization I’d say—kids matter. It’s more than a statement to us. It’s a deep belief.”

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