Healthier Urban Families: The Road through Uncertainty Ends in Resilience

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Ms. Weathington trains volunteer facilitators to encourage teen discussions at the Giant Step Teen Conference.

Healthier Urban Families (HUF) programs connect MPSI to the community through trainings for social workers and educators, and workshops for parents, grandparents and students. Beverly Weathington, LMSW, heads the programs and creates and delivers most of the trainings. She paused to reflect on the year 2020 with shock and awe: shock at how Covid upended schools, routines, jobs and families, and awe at how we found opportunities in the chaos to deepen and grow.

Today she sees an abiding sense of appreciation in the communities she works with. "We're grateful we can be together again," she said. "We appreciate the resilience of our relationships, the strength of our families. This was challenging -- but we got through it. We now know how precious it is to be able to drop off your child to spend time with their grandparents.

The simple things we took for granted now have great value."

While many feel relief, Ms. Weathington cautions us not to underestimate the impact of what was lost during the pandemic. Time, interactions, health, and rights of passage are not easily replaced. "There were no baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, funerals, proms, Thanksgivings, graduations, or even visits to the playground. Teens couldn't get their driver's license. Fear and stress were rampant." To address some of these issues, Ms. Weathington created Parenting Moments in April of 2020. This monthly digital newsletter, still published today, provides resources and tips for parents to engage their children. The content has evolved from an early focus on virtual schooling and stimulating activities that could be done in quarantine to more recent, bigger issues like diversity, equity and inclusion, and community and school violence.

"Parenting Moments has become a platform to reach parents where they are. We try to help them have those hard conversations with children about issues like racism and to think about how to make the world safer and more equitable," Ms. Weathington said. Readers learn how to broach difficult topics with children in age-appropriate ways, and also where to have fun this weekend. "Families want and need both," she said.

HUF's trainings programs also evolved as a result of Covid. They used to be in-person but are now online and recorded, which extends their reach and attendance. Participants prefer the convenience of a Zoom meeting, and the time Ms. Weathington saves on travel can be spent developing deeper content that is timely and intentional. "I strive to breathe life into complex concepts like how to promote positive racial identity in children. My goal is to provide theoretical and concrete examples; to teach and help people take action.  Parents tell me they find this approach meaningful and impactful. It's all about making theoretical concepts real and doable."

Annual Conference with Infant Mental Health 

Healthier Urban Families collaborates with MPSI's Infant Mental Health program plan and host the annual Explorations in Development conference. Previously an in-person event, the conference pivoted to online in October of 2020 and will continue in the virtual format for October of 2023. The conference is two, back-to-back half days featuring nationally recognized speakers who address social and behavioral issues that impact infants, children and families. The 2021 conference, Tough All Day, Frightened All Night: Understanding Attachment as a Fear Regulation System,reached 180 professionals each day a record for the offering. 

The Giant Step Teen Conference came back live and in-person in October 2022, hosting 160 students from 21 different schools. The conference, now in its 36th year, brings high school students together to get to know and understand each other. During the pandemic, when we couldn't bring the teens together, Giant Step hosted four free professional development seminars online for teachers and counselors. Topics covered burn-out, the Covid toll on learning, and depression and anxiety in both students and teachers. About 70 professionals attended each offering. "I appreciate how Giant Step supports us during the most difficult time of my career," a 10th grade counselor wrote. "We can't get through this without a lot of help."


Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute Report 2021/2022
Editor : Cheryl Deep
Designer: Catherine Blasio