Family Nurturing Center of CNY, Inc. Helps Bring Families Closer Together
if it’s one person at a time, people’s lives can be changed for the better.”
quote from Donna LaTour-Elefante ’70 and ’82 is one of the reasons why she
founded The Family Nurturing Center of CNY, Inc. and continues to devote her
time, energy, and enthusiasm to the agency.
Her life, and the lives of countless families, have been changed for the
positive because of the programs offered through The Family Nurturing Center. This story began at Utica College.
received her first degree from Utica College in French. After having two children and working for an
agency for five years, she went back to UC and received a degree in Child
Life. From that point on, opportunities
arose, miracles happened, and she was led to where she is today, as Executive
Director and Founder of Family Nurturing Center. She credits Utica College and her Child Life
degree, saying that “It was only because of that degree that I was able to open
she worked for Parents Anonymous, a support group network for abusive parents
or those who are threatened/feel as though they become abusive. People could call 24/7 and the person
answering the call would only know their first name. If it was in the middle of
the night, the operator would go through a list of names and call one of the
volunteers, who would them contact the adult back. It was only Donna and volunteers who worked
for the agency, which received an award
in Rochester for the best program in the state.
As much good as was taking place, a formal curriculum was missing. One on one support was done, but Donna felt
as though a framework was needed; a framework from which to refer, to help make
went to a conference in Canada where her goal was to find a universal parenting
program. She has researched a great deal
and knew what she was looking for. At
the conference, there was a long list of workshops that one could attend, and
Donna decided to attend one called Nurturing families with Dr. Steven
Bavolek. As she listened, she knew this
was it, the program she had been looking for.
She met Dr. Bavolek and asked him “How do I do this?” He asked where she lived, and when she
responded, he said that he hadn’t done any training in New York State. So, if she put a group together for a workshop,
he would come do the training. She
convinced the board of Parents Anonymous, then contacted all of the agencies
who did parenting in the state through a mass mailing. 65 people attended the workshop. Donna implemented the program 26 years ago. Then, Dr. Bavolek then asked her to become a
trainer. She was hand-picked as one of
ten people to be trained as a trainer.
As she trained throughout the country, ideas formed and she worked until
they became a reality.
new idea was created in Donna’s head called the Family Nurturing Center. She took a leap of faith and put in proposals
for grants, to open her own not for profit agency. She knew it was the right thing to do. She received a $150,000 contract and started
the Family Nurturing Center out of her home.
She hired two staff and her family room was used as an office, her
living room as the group area, her dining room as the board room, and the rec
room in the basement as the children’s play room.
trained 80 people to be facilitators for individual programs. The programs were time consuming, for
example, the infant/toddler program was 24 sessions, 2 ½ hours each. Other programs included those for school age
children and adolescents, with the parents.
Donna got the word out about the Family Nurturing Center through
advertising, word of mouth, and the Department of Social Services. They spent two years in her home.
the center moved to a location in downtown Utica on Genesee Street. The location included the exact number of
rooms that were needed. It needed work,
but she got a great deal for the space - $150 a month for rent. The renter was very spiritual and after
hearing what she would use the space for, asked how much she could afford, and
said she could have it. When Donna got
into her car, she burst into tears and asked “How did this happen?” She said from the very start, there were many
miracles that led to where the Family Nurturing Center is today. Volunteers painted the walls, furniture was
donated, they were visible to the community; she thought she was in
Heaven. Then it got better.
Good Morning America contacted her, after they had reached out to Dr. Bavolek
who contacted Donna, asking if the television show could feature the Family
Nurturing Center. They were taping five
different segments on parenting, and the center would be the feature of one of
the segments. Of course, Donna agreed,
and ABC crew came to videotape an interview.
They interviewed Donna and two sets of parents. They filmed at one of the local schools, as
the Family Nurturing Center had expanded into the school systems. Programs were offered at the school in the
Utica area, Rome, Camden, and more. ABC
came during the sixth or seventh week of the program (which ranged from 15 – 24
weeks). The crew was so touched with the
program that they stayed for two more days.
They followed one of the mothers, who had three children, including a
daughter who had been removed because the mother was abusive to her. Because of the program, she was able to get
her daughter back. The video segment was
aired on Good Morning America, and Donna, as well as Dr. Bavolek, now use it in
said, “I believe in the program. The
nurturing is spiritual, emotional, physical, providing creative ideas for
parents to have the best possible relationship with their children.” Here is an example of what occurs from the
beginning of the process. Families can
be referred and an appointment is set up and made in their home. They are asked if they have any goals in
mind, materials are shown, and questions are asked. Depending on age group and family situation,
they are put into a group. They are
asked to fill out a benign contract that includes that they promise to come to
at least three sessions to see if they like it.
Three copies are made – one for the family, one for the Family Nurturing
Center, and one to give to an outside agency if there had been one that
referred them. Before the first session,
a staff member calls them to remind them and say how excited they are that they
will be coming. Transportation is
provided if needed. Child care is also
provided, such as if the family has a three year old, but are attending the
school age group program. At
orientation, they meet other parents.
There is an assignment every week to practice skills. After three sessions, a thank you note is
sent, saying how proud they are and that they must really love their
children. A thank you note is also sent
to the child. Most have never received a
thank you note, and it means a lot of them.
Each week, different families volunteer to bring snacks. Food is a nurturing thing, and it is a
healthy practice to have healthy food.
There are interactive games which are themes according to what they are
practicing. Children love to see their
parents playing with them. Parents are
able to see their children happy and cooperative. A session includes separate time for the
parents and children, then the entire group would get together for a snack and
activity, then separate again and finish the session. For the children, a board with stickers is
created, with stickers being given each week for certain behavior and
activities; and parents are able to see that it is possible for their child to
be a positive and cooperative person.
Families can have three legitimate misses and can make up the classes. At the end, there is a graduation. Children perform a skit, awards are given,
and a huge party is thrown. Certificates
are given to each participant. Families
are often excited that it is completed, but said that it is over. They are now part of the Family Nurturing
Family. The program may be complete, but
they can always go to people they can trust, who care, and will listen.
the beginning of the program, a member had to choose what number they
considered themselves as a parent on a scale of 1-10. That number may fluctuate, but in general,
each person is a specific number. The program is so transformational that each
person’s number will always increase after the curriculum. Donna said, “Everybody gains something, so
you cannot lose. Families are
transformed in the positive.”
occur in part because of the time people commit to the process of change. The longer programs are 24 sessions, which is
6 months devoted to changing your family.
With children also attending, the parents and children are speaking the
same language. For example, a parent
could ask their child “Is that a good use of your personal power?” and the
child would know exactly what they were talking about. The Family Nurturing Center filled a gap in
the community, as there were no parenting programs at the time. It was such a blessing to Donna to be the
founder. They hear success stories all the time, people
saying “We would never have been able to make it if it wasn’t for your
center had grown to be the entire floor of the building they were located
in. The owner sold the building,
however, so they moved to the location they are in now on Elizabeth
Street. The renter asked what was needed
and delivered – asking for just more than half of what most places in downtown
were asking in rent, knocking a wall down, building a bookcase, and more. Furniture was donated from a bank.
programs with created as more grant proposals were submitted from a grant
writer. One of the programs was home
visits, another was for supervised visitation.
Family Place was created, where non custodial parents were able to spend
time with their children. It is a multi-purpose resource center for parents and
children, somewhere to normalize their experience together. A parent could even go out to lunch with
their child. Birthdays, holidays, could
be spend together. Children would not
have a relationship with the parents if it wasn’t for these visits.
so many positive programs taking place, there was one thing that had not been
created, that was one of Donna’s major goals - a home where teen moms could
live. Adolescent parents, teens are very
needy, and she wanted a place to offer guidance and support, with tutoring,
counseling, parenting, life skills training, and all basic needs. A free, protected, safe space to finish
growing up and raise their child. For
ten years, Donna and her staff and volunteers struggled with what to do. Then, 3 ½ years ago, a huge grant came to the
community for the homeless coalition.
There was a small amount left over to start a program. A proposal was
written to the Community Foundation and was accepted. What came to life was Evelyn’s House.
Lady of Lourdes, which used to be a convent, had an entire floor of individual
rooms. There were two rooms with a
bathroom in the middle. This became the
location was the teen parents home.
Volunteers were extremely helpful, with volunteer labor (carpenters union
doing all the carpeting), volunteer construction, and a professional painter,
as well as students painting the rooms.
All the furniture was donated and they received a huge bargain on the
carpeting. They also received supplies
from an unexpected source.
received a call from a woman in Georgia after the woman called the Mohawk
Valley Chamber of Commerce, and they directed her to call Donna. The woman asked a few questions as Donna told
her about Evelyn’s House, with one of the questions being “Do you have a wish
list?” Evelyn’s House was still being
worked on, its doors hadn’t been opened yet, so receiving items off of a wish
list would be perfect timing. The woman
explained that she was one in a group of wives of bass fishermen, who were
coming to a tournament on Oneida Lake (which was being covered by ESPN), and
that they were planning a fundraiser for a local nonprofit organization. The woman decided during that phone call that Evelyn’s House
would be the recipient. The fundraiser
typically raised between $800 – $1,000.
On the day of the tournament, Donna and another staff member sat at one
of the tables at the tournament registration.
The fishermen have to go around to each table at registration, and when
each person stops at this table, the wives get them to empty their pockets,
their wallets, etc. They say that they
must offer their support, and explain who the people with them were. Everyone participated and they raised
$1,000. The wives then went shopping and
bought everything on the wish list, which included baby clothes, co-sleepers,
rocking chairs, and a truckload more. On
stage, Donna and her associate was presented on stage. They wanted to do something for the wives, so
they presented the two women who organized the fundraiser with Angel Fish
Awards. The women were so thrilled, as
they had never received anything like that.
Donna again felt truly blessed.
fall, Evelyn’s House opened its doors.
There are seven suites that include two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a
living room. They are essentially their own apartments within the building,
which includes a huge living room with a television, computer, and coaches, a
big kitchen, a large playroom with artwork on the walls, and a laundry room.
The kitchen’s cupboards were donated by Judge Romano, the appliances by the
Knights of Columbus. Roman shades were
made and donated, as well as handmade curtains, and handmade quilts for every
bed. Young women aged 16-21 are eligible
to live in Evelyn’s House. They can stay
up to two years and one of the rules is that while they are there, they must
finish their education, whether that be to get their GED, finish high school,
or college. A Women’s Empowerment Class
is offered, as well as child birth classes, and learning job skills. The goal is for these young women to get a
job and get their own apartments.
Someone is there 24/7, and the workers are like surrogate parents to the
teen mothers. Pregnant young women have
stayed there, as well, and four babies have been born. Donations and volunteers are always welcome
and needed, especially since the girls like to have mentors. Everyone deserved a friend, someone to
encourage and support them, especially in a challenging and life changing time. Fathers are able to spend time with the
mothers and the babies in Evelyn’s House, as there is a secure visitation
room. Evelyn’s House is a blessing for
the community and for the families who live there and eventually become
independent. The house is a tribute to
Donna’s mother, Evelyn, who passed away 16 years ago. A portrait of her as a young woman was
painted (another donation) and is hung in Evelyn’s House.
stays connected with UC through the Family Nurturing Center, as UC Faculty
members participate do research with Evelyn’s House. There are 36 full timers, as well as part
timers and volunteers. Donna is a
nurturing skills facilitator trainer and trains people from all over the
world. She still does some travel, but a
lot of people come to Utica for a training session. She also trains those who want to train
is no doubt that other miracles will continue to occur. “I don’t limit myself, because I just don’t
more information, go to http://www.fnccny.org/about.shtml.