Q&A with Brandy Pilon, Executive Director, Grande Prairie Family Education Society

Brandy Pilon

You are based out of Grande Prairie, but your services cover our area as well, right?
Our main office is located in the City of Grande Prairie. Grande Prairie Family Education Society (GPFES) is a proud partner with the Grande Prairie and Area Family Resource Network (FRN). Some of our programs are offered outside of the City of Grande Prairie, while others are only offered within the city limits due to funding requirements specific to some programs. Service areas covered by FRN include Beaverlodge, City of Grande Prairie, County of Grande Prairie, Hythe, Village of Rycroft, Saddle Hills County, Sexsmith, Town of Spirit River, Municipal District of Spirt River No. 133, Wembley, and Birch Hills County. Services are provided through the “spokes” within the FRN network.

What type of services do you offer?
We offer a voluntary, free Home Visitation Program aimed at supporting parents and caregivers of children pre-birth to six years old. We also provide education and caregiver support programs to build parental capacity and increase positive parenting strategies for parents and caregivers with children of all ages. These two programs the “spokes” GPFES has under the FRN are available to anyone within the network area mentioned above. FRN is made up of four agencies: GPFES, Native Counselling Services of Alberta, YMCA of Northern Alberta, and the Center for Young Parents.

GPFES is also funded as the FRN Hub. The Hub is a “no wrong door” approach to services. The Hub is responsible for facilitating the direct service delivery of referrals and coordination services (Spokes), supporting families to navigate service systems, and partnering with parents and caregivers in identifying and accessing community resources. We have a Family Navigator on staff to assist clients. The Hub is also responsible for establishing a streamlined FRN program referral process for children, youth and families accessing FRN supports and services. Our universal referral form is on our website, and it can be utilized by service providers or individuals to make service referrals.

Services offered by GPFES outside of FRN are FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) supports, including family supports for caregivers with children 0-12 years old diagnosed or suspected with FASD, FASD youth and adult supports for 13 years and older, FASD navigator, and the PCAP (Parent and Child Assistance Program). Our Roots of Empathy Program is an evidence-based curriculum school program offered in schools to reduce relational aggression and bullying and increase empathy with children in Grades 1 -8. We also offer an Adult Literacy Program (ALP), which supports adult learners to further their education and employment goals. We offer family literacy and adult group programs within ALP.

Talk more about Roots of Empathy?
Our Roots of Empathy program is funded by the City of Grande Prairie and currently offered only in the city at this time. Roots of Empathy is an evidence- and empathy-based classroom program designed to reduce levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The program aims to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

We also have the Empathy Project, a six-week program for children and youth ages 6-17 focusing on topics such as, “Who am I,” and “Where do I Belong,” as well as addresses cultural diversity and inclusion, bullying, and peer pressure.

Our Rainbows for Children and Youth provides support to children to help them navigate through grief and healing from a loss resulting from situations such as death, deployment, incarceration, immigration, separation and divorce, and significant illness/hospitalization of a loved one.

You offer a literacy program for adults. It sounds like there are enough adults who could use help with reading. What books or types of reading materials are used for adults?
Statistics show one of five Albertans have low literacy level. For more questions around resources, I would connect with your local CALP-funded (Community Adult Learning) agency. Our adult literacy programs are funded through the CALP-Advanced Education with the Government of Alberta, and services are available in the Grande Prairie area.

How important are love and security in a family dynamic?
We focus on relationships, which form the foundation of all our programs. We believe that a secure attachment and positive parent-child interaction leads to the success for children and youth. We believe that the relationship and attachment are key when incorporating positive parenting strategies.

Are your programs only for people who need “fixing” or are your programs for people who already have the basics down but appreciate the fellowship your programs may offer?
We offer a variety of parent education and caregiver support programs that are “universal” – meaning, individuals looking to increase their skills and gain additional supports are welcome. We know all parents and caregivers need support at some point in their parenting journey. We offer, for example, support groups for dads, caregivers, and grandparents raising grandchildren.

What is the role of your Family Navigator?
Our Family Navigator provides connections for families with services and supports that meet their needs. The Family Navigator will provide referrals as well as help with identifying the level of supports needed by families. The Family Navigator also provides short-term support to help with providing stability while families wait to access programs, ensuring their basic needs are met, and they are connected with the supports to reduce risk of families falling through the cracks.

You offer support for families who deal with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Do you offer support for families with other disorders such as autism, ADHD, ADD, anxiety, depression and other challenges as well?
Not specifically. However, we would collaborate with other resources in the community to offer supports around identified concerns that families may be dealing with and help to connect families with those supports, if appropriate.

What would you like to say to families who can use your help but may be reluctant or embarrassed to contact you?
All families struggle at times, and all parents or caregivers need supports though their parenting journey. You are not alone. Call us and see if there are any supports that you feel could benefit you and your families. All services are free and voluntary, meaning you can end services at any time.

What is the cost of these programs?
All services are free – except for some of our adult literacy supports.