Celebrating Families

Cecilia Garcia
December 31, 2001

Let's take a vote—all in favor of designating 2002 as the Year of the Family, smile and hug your child, your parents, your siblings, your spouses, your significant others, your neighbors and everyone who brings a little light into your life. While we're at it, let's make every year the Year of the Family. What's more important, really?

Weaving a New Social Fabric
With its strong commitment to strengthening families, the Annie E. Casey Foundation is working closely with 22 communities to fortify the connections between families and economic opportunities, social networks, services and supports. Its Making Connections initiative is based partly on the premise that place matters and for families, neighborhood is the place that matters most. In a concerted effort to change tough neighborhoods into family-nurturing environments, Annie E. Casey is engaging residents, civic groups, political leaders, grassroots groups, public and private sector leadership, and faith-based organizations to contribute ideas, support and resources.

Related to this initiative and in recognition of the growing importance of cyberspace, Connect for Kids and Annie E. Casey are creating a new online resource. Celebrating Families (check back later this week for a live link) is a month-by-month guide to local and national events that celebrate and strengthen all American families. We're putting the final touches on this new resource so families across the country can check it out.

Year of the Family
The United Nations may have started the ball rolling when it declared 1994 to be the International Year of the Family. Since then, a number of states followed suit— Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan and Wyoming, to name a few.

As I started digging a little more deeply into this, I was pleasantly surprised that the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) had designated 2001 as the Year of the Family. This action followed the National Guard's 2000 Year of the Family. How could they have known, way back when they made these choices, that the AFMC's and National Guard's emphasis on recognizing the importance of the families of our service men and women would be so timely and critical the morning of September 11th and thereafter?

Recognizing the Role Families Play
While I'm sure that all U.S. military bases provide some measure of family support, the Hill Air Force Base (AFB) in Utah offers a comprehensive approach. Its Family Support Center hosts an interesting range of programs, from family development education to relocation assistance designed specifically for kids. The objective is to provide families with the support systems they left behind, recreating to some extent their communities and neighborhoods. So, even though the AFMC's Year of the Family officially ends when the New Year begins, the families at Hill AFB probably won't even take note, because the Family Support Center continues to be there for them.

The National Guard's commitment to family didn't stop at the end of 2000 either. In fact, the annual theme triggered a lot of activity to support the National Guard's stated mission regarding families: "To establish and facilitate ongoing communication, involvement, support and recognition between National Guard families and the National Guard in a partnership that promotes the best in both." With funds provided by the National Guard Bureau, the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan became the first unit to hire a family support manager this past July. Other units across the country are seeking to fill similar positions.

American Family Comes to PBS
And while we're busy designating every year to be the Year of the Family, let's make sure we include all families. In late January, PBS presents a new series entitled American Family. The triumphs and trials of the Gonzalez family are universal and reflect the experiences of many families across the country, regardless of race or ethnicity. You might wonder why, with all the new programs that debut on television and cable these days, I'm telling you about this one. Good question. American Family is the first dramatic series centered around a Latino family ever to be produced and aired on broadcast television. (Okay, cable has been leading the way here with Resurrection Boulevard, but here we're talking about broadcast television.)

Given what we know about the growing numbers of Latinos in this country, one could argue that American Family is way overdue. Nonetheless I, for one, will be happy to tune in. Check with your local public television station for date and time.

So, let's take that vote one more time, shall we?

On behalf of Connect for Kids and the Benton Foundation, may 2002 bring you and your families peace and happiness.


Cecilia Garcia directs Connect for Kids.