McLean County Health Department
200 W Front St, 3rd Floor
Bloomington, IL 61701
Phone: (309) 888-5539
Email: maureen.sollars /at/ mcleancountyil.gov
Parentexpo: Continuing a Community Legacy
McLean County, Illinois, is a vibrant community, home to 171,150 people who exemplify the values of the Midwest and a remarkable quality of life. McLean County covers the largest geographic area in Illinois. Bloomington-Normal (Blo-No) is McLean County’s central urban area. Surrounding Blo-No are 18 smaller towns and rural farming communities. These towns’ population range in size from about 150 to 4,000 individuals. Nearly 75% of McLean County’s population lives in or very close to Blo-No.
Children make up about 27% of the overall population, with 23% of the children birth to 4 years old; or about 10,700 infants, toddlers, and preschool children. In 2010, the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal was deemed the best creative children’s experience in Illinois by Media World USA’s “Best of” Series and was subsequently featured on a Best of Illinois television program on CBS 2 WBBM Chicago and on the Travel Channel.
Blo-No hosts many celebrations, events, and activities for families with young children every month which makes it a great community to raise children. The McLean County All Our Kids (AOK) Early Childhood Network has prioritized the need to keep families informed of the amazing resources and information available to them. Keeping families informed increases their opportunities to getting the services they need. Families with special needs often find themselves in isolation until they are given information and support in working with their special needs.
The McLean AOK Network, with its diverse partnership, has worked hard to provide as much information as possible to families with the hopes of connecting them to valuable services. In 2006, the McLean County AOK Network was approached about reviving a Parentexpo that was hosted annually in McLean County since 1998, by key early childhood partners and funders. These annual Parentexpos created great opportunities to showcase the rich resources available in the community as well as introduce parents to important topics that could help support them in raising their children.
In the past these Expos had funding to cover advertisement, low-cost meals, child care, and speaker’s fees. However, in 2005 they lost their funding and were looking to McLean County AOK to keep up the legacy of informing parents. With limited resources, the McLean County AOK Network’s Parent Enrichment Action Team (PEAT), with a great deal of faith and in-kind support, re-launched the Parentexpo in 2006. They took on this challenge by mobilizing partners to work in collaboration to bring this Expo back to the community. Over the years more resources were provided and the number of parents attending these events increased.
Recently, McLean County AOK Network hosted a free half-day conference for parents in February 2013. Parentexpo ’13 hosted over 50 vendor tables staffed with friendly people waiting to talk with parents regarding the wonderful services they have to offer. Three child care rooms were staffed and ready to receive children with reservations for care and willing to accept more children with parents who walked in. Illinois State University student volunteers helped with child care. Close to 90 parents registered and attended the conference which included two sessions of four workshops, a keynote speaker, and plenty of time for visiting vendors. The most popular workshops were the keynote: “Love & Logic®: the Younger Years” and Those A‑M‑A‑Z‑I‑N‑G Young Children with “Different” Learning Needs. Other popular workshops were about parent/child communication, cooking, social emotional learning, food allergies, divorce, and bullying. Parents attending the event received flyers on upcoming parent education workshops, support groups, a Kindergarten readiness calendar, pamphlets from PEAT member agencies, AOK Pocket Resource Guides, 211 information and much more. Child care providers and Foster Parents received DCFS professional development training hours for their participation. Most parents who attended reported that they would return again next year and would recommend the event to other families.
A story about the Parentexpo ’13 appeared in the local newspaper the following day. The event was a success as a result of the hard work and collaboration of the McLean County AOK Parent Enrichment Action Team. The re-launching of this event has shown that parents need and want to learn more about information, resources and supports that help them in raising their children and that the McLean County AOK did well in investing their time and resources into continuing the legacy of learning for families.
What resources are necessary to replicate this approach?
- Dedicated and flexible partners
- High caliber, local speakers addressing interesting topics for families
- Keynote that addresses a hot topic or child behavior
- Accessible, comfortable space
- Child Care really helps, but is not absolutely necessary
- Vendors – We paid for lunch using Vendor fees
- A non-profit (501(C)3 fiscal agent to assist in collecting fees)
- Marketing/Advertisement plan
- Technical Support for presentations (laptops, projectors)
- Signage-directing people to key locations (registration, restrooms, lunch area)
- Free or low-cost meals
- Registration information for follow-up events