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Family Center helps parents, kids grow

December 07, 1997

Family Center helps parents, kids grow

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

When a toddler walks into Karen Christof's office, she pauses to greet him with a big smile, and anyone can quickly see why she took the job of running the Washington County Family Center.

"It's fun to see the changes in the babies. They grow so fast," she said.

Since she took the job of director in September, Christof has seen infants turn into active 3-month-olds and babies become toddlers.

Christof replaced Wendy Weiner, the center's founding director, who moved to the Buffalo, N.Y., area when her husband, Rabbi Charles Rabinowitz, took a job with a larger congregation there.

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The Family Center started in November 1995 to serve mainly teens who are pregnant or have children 3 and under.

Parents of all ages who have young children can use the free services, which include parenting classes, computer training and help with job searches. Income doesn't matter.

While parents are learning, center employees keep children busy with supervised play and learning.

Right now, about 40 families a month use the center.

"I'd love to see more people taking advantage of the services," she said.

The center's services seem to fit perfectly with the goals of welfare reform.

But so far the center has actually lost a few clients because of welfare reform, she said.

The new law requires welfare parents with children over 1 to get job hunting help at Hagerstown Junior College.

But Christof encourages pregnant parents and parents of infants to get a head start at the 920 W. Washington St. center.

Free transportation is available, she said.

Christof, 45, worked for 16 years at St. John's Community Services in Washington, D.C.

As she moved up through the ranks, she worked less and less with children. Her last job was director of early learning and education.

She also got tired of her long commute from Braddock Heights, Md., into the city, which she did for six years.

Christof has a son, Chris, 7, and a daughter, Annie, 8.

Since she came to the center, she has had great support from her nine full- and part-time employees.

"I have a great staff. The staff is really committed," she said.

It's heartwarming to see clients return after facing personal crises, like domestic violence and apartment evictions, she said.

One client was back at the center 10 days after she had her baby.

And there's always the children.

"It's fun holding babies again and rocking them to sleep," she said.

For more information about the center, call 301-790-4002.

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