Officials of the nonprofit organization said it makes sense for it to have a significant presence on the Internet and on social media, today’s technology-based gathering places, where it can deliver traditional but timeless lessons about the importance of family.
The organization now has a website, a Facebook page and videos posted online, both on those sites and on YouTube.
The message shared in those places is the same one Phil Judd, founder and current vice-chairman of the organization, has been sharing in person with parents for decades. Phil Judd started the Painted Horse in Augusta in 1977 with the late Mimi Judd, running it until it closed in 2010.
The network’s message revolves around being good, nurturing parents taking responsibility for the growth, intellect, values and skills of their children in the home, which he describes as the first and primary source of education for children, and acting as advocates for their children and families.
Judd, of Augusta, said the network’s website and social media presence “are both supposed to be informing and uplifting people. Encouraging people to be a little more engaged in the growth and development of their children. Families used to be supported by neighbors, by the community. Nowadays, I’m not sure they feel that. We want to encourage and support families. Let parents know you’re holding the future. What occurs in the home makes a difference. Work together and help each other. Realize your children are depending on you to be their courageous advocates on their educational journey.”
Lisa Miller, of Somerville, secretary of the organization, said taking Maine Families Network’s message online is needed for the simple reason that that is where people “gather” now.
“If we want to be speaking to young families, that’s where they are,” she said. “It’s a new commons, a place where people meet and share information. I’m on it a fair amount myself. It’s where my kids are, my grandkids are.”
The organization’s plans for this year include opening an online educational toy store to offer for sale toys, puzzles and other educational play items like those once offered at the Painted Horse, which closed because it wasn’t bringing in enough business to cover expenses.
“I was familiar with the Painted Horse,” Miller said. “I bought stuff for my kids there, and I was sad when it closed. It had a wide array of interesting, engaging toys that would get kids using their brains and skills. There is still a place for that, I think, in the toy world. And now, because we have online capabilities, you can do this, open up this kind of store in a much more affordable way.”
If successful, the store could provide revenue to help fund the nonprofit Maine Families Network.
Judd said the online store he hopes Maine Families Network will be able to create would likely work with a partner business which would fulfill the orders for toys. Rather than trying to maintain a stock of toys, the network would run the online storefront.
Judd said it would carry items such as science, arts and math-related games, family games, puzzles, books, and puppets.
Another aspect of Maine Families Network’s online presence are videos. One, to be joined by others once they are made, captures a group of local parents discussing “parents as natural teachers, children as natural learners” at a forum moderated by Miller last year at the University of Maine at Augusta.
Miller said the discussion at the forum — and now on the video of it — included exploring parenting styles and opportunities to turn fun activities into teaching tools, managing busy lives to try to spend more time with kids, and relating the experiences and challenges of parents.
But the organization isn’t just or even primarily about the Web.
While its first few years have largely been about building the organization, including obtaining federal nonprofit status, network officials hope to give it more of a physical presence.
Already the group has an audio presence, as local Maine humorist Gary Crocker has recorded public service announcements to be played on the radio, delivering family-related messages for the network.
Miller said they hope to bring their message of support and advocacy for parents and families to area events, such as the Whatever Family Festival, to meet and talk with people face to face.
“We’ve been doing all this stuff on a shoestring,” Miller said. “A lot of volunteer time is put into this. We certainly feel compelled to broaden the membership and reach of this organization. We’d like to get some activities on the ground. We’ve had lots of ideas, but first we had to get the infrastructure in place. We’re ready to bounce out from that now.”