HomeBensalem TimesFamily Service Association’s bilingual programs win Champion Award

Family Service Association’s bilingual programs win Champion Award

Mariel Santiago leads five weekly groups for area Spanish speakers, offering peer support, parental education and more

A sense of community: Spanish speakers in Bucks County gather at one of Family Service Association’s weekly group sessions. Submitted Photo

Since 2022, Family Service Association of Bucks County has been working diligently to provide a sense of community for local Spanish-speaking families through its lineup of bilingual programs. 

According to Mariel Santiago, the lead facilitator who runs up to five groups weekly in various locations spanning the entire county, fostering a supportive environment is crucial. 

Oftentimes, when an immigrant from Honduras or Guatemala has to look over forms from their child’s school district, or navigate the healthcare system, it can be a stressful experience as someone who isn’t a native English speaker, and who isn’t sure where to turn.

“I get told all the time by worried parents, ‘In Bucks County, they speak more English, not Spanish,’ ” she explained to The Times

However, thanks to Family Service’s bilingual programs, their stress is eased a bit. Santiago’s weekly group meetings offer community resources and peer support, a safe space for parent education (Nurturing Parenting, 24/7 Dad) and family activities, a dedicated Hispanic Food Pantry Day and translation assistance. All are free of charge.

Over the past two years, these programs — which were launched with a grant from the Children’s Trust Fund — have expanded from one educator to a dedicated team of four, offering services in both English and Spanish.

Recently, the programs earned Family Service the Pennsylvania Equity in Early Childhood Education 2023 Champion Award, with this recognition underscoring the vital role that such offerings play in the community.

Santiago was simultaneously shocked and thrilled to receive the formal letter in the mail announcing the award. 

Finding community: A birthday party is celebrated during one of Family Service Association’s bilingual group meetings. Submitted Photo

Looking ahead, her plans are twofold. First, Santiago wants to spread awareness about the programs to more of Bucks County’s Spanish-speaking community and attract more participants. Each of her five weekly groups has their own unique stories and struggles, with attendees largely hailing from Ghana in Lower Bucks County, Honduras and Guatemala in Central Bucks, and El Salvador in Upper Bucks. She hopes that, for those who currently feel isolated, Family Service — and the chance to connect with those of similar backgrounds — is put on their radar.

Second, she intends to focus on the newest program, 24/7 Dad, which provides support and education to fathers seeking to develop and build stronger relationships with their children and families. Sessions in Spanish are offered every Monday, from 6 to 7 p.m., at the Family Service Bristol Office, 2 Canals End Road, Suite 201G, Bristol.

Nurturing Parenting sessions, which are designed to empower individuals and families with new knowledge, strategies and skills to promote positive and healthy lifestyle choices, are offered in Spanish on the following days:

  • Mondays, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Family Service, 134 E. Mill St., Quakertown
  • Tuesdays, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., Bucks Meadows, 3131 Knights Road, Building 6, Apt. 20, Bensalem
  • Wednesdays, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., St. Paul Methodist Church, 2131 Palomino Drive, Warrington
  • Fridays, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Family Service, 2 Canals End Road, Bristol

To register or learn more about any of the programs, contact Santiago directly at 215-208-6939 or msantiago@fsabc.org

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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