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Project Sprout is an interprofessional awareness and prevention program intended to provide developmentally appropriate support services for families with young children in the New River Valley (NRV) who are experiencing homelessness and/or living in poverty. According to Aline Brinckman, the Homeless Liaison for Montgomery County Public Schools and the New River Valley Project Hope Coordinator, there are at least 40 families in the City of Radford, Montgomery County, and Pulaski County who are currently identified as homeless and who have at least one child in the family between the ages of birth to five years. The number of families who are living below the poverty line throughout the NRV is countless. Ms. Brinckman, who serves as the liaison between Project Sprout and the NRV community, notes that the need for services for these families is expansive.
With referrals coming from both Project Hope and area Head Start programs, more than 50 Radford University undergraduate and graduate student volunteers from programs across multiple colleges have been trained interprofessionally over the past five years to appropriately and effectively communicate with dozens of families while providing them with information, activities, and resources to work with their own children in four domains: cognition, speech/language/communication, emergent literacy, and social-emotional development. Following an intensive training program, students (Project Sprout Advocates) are equipped with an expanded awareness of the issues that families who are facing socioeconomic challenges may be facing in their own communities and are armed with information and materials to empower these families to more effectively support their young children as they develop and learn, regardless of the environments in which they live.
All RU students are welcome to volunteer with Project Sprout! Those who are studying to seek future employment in the arenas of education, healthcare, and/or human services may be particularly interested in the opportunity to interact with families in the community while enriching their own lives as they provide these services. Based on referrals from Ms. Brinckman and her colleagues, Project Sprout Advocates are assigned in interprofessional teams of two to conduct visits with homeless families and/or those families living below the poverty line in the City of Radford, Montgomery County, or Pulaski County. During these visits (often in public libraries or parks), Advocates provide caregivers with age-appropriate and educational information, activities, and resources to interact with and address their children’s development skills. Student Advocates interact with families by a) communicating appropriately with parents and young children who are experiencing homelessness and/or poverty; b) interacting with the young children at different age ranges (between birth-five years) to address developmental milestones and skills; c) modeling for and coaching parents to utilize the toys and materials provided and to generalize the developmentally appropriate skills within everyday activities/routines. In addition, the children are provided with a small bag of developmentally appropriate books, toys, and materials that provide the basis for interactions and learning opportunities between themselves and their family members. The parent-child experiences these materials are intended to facilitate set the stage for the development of these skills and for greater success in the children’s futures in school and life.