Eight Ways to Strengthen Your Family and Community Before the End of the Year

Eight Ways to Strengthen Your Family and Community Before the End of the Year

Since November 1, Illuminate has been shining a light on ways you can get involved and illuminating ways that you can strengthen your family and the families in your neighborhood this holiday season. If you feel strongly about supporting your community, protecting the kids in your neighborhood and would like to make it a better place for your family, your neighbors, and generations to come, here are some small but effective suggestions from Illuminate Colorado you can implement right now:

Get to know your neighbors 

The first step to assisting your community is to get to know the people that are a part of it. If you don’t already know your neighbors, invite them over to share a cup of coffee or a home-cooked meal. Check for local groups on social media or visit in-person community meetings to build up connections. Organize a fun activity to bring people together.

Last year, we started a new tradition –  luminary lighting at home – to build a sense of togetherness in the community at a time when we needed to stay a part, to stay safe.  It’s something that we don’t want to let go off and hope more people will join us in organizing a luminary lighting for your neighborhood to build those social connections and friendships we know to be so important when trying to prevent child maltreatment. Post your neighborhood pictures on Dec. 10 #LighttheWayCO to inspire others.

Create a Crisis Plan for Your Family

If the unthinkable happened tomorrow, what would your family do? If for some reason, you lost all of the resources and support that you rely on everyday to provide for your family, where would you turn? One way you can help strengthen your family and your community in the process is to make a list of resources, before you’re in a panic and overwhelmed with stress. Becoming more familiar with the resources and programs available to strengthen your family will help prepare you to be a better neighbor if someone you know should need some advice on where to turn to for support. 

Start a fundraiser

Charity begins at home, they say. Start a fundraiser for someone you know, your local school or an organization on your family crisis plan. It can be a great way to bring your community closer together and potentially turn someone’s life around at the same time. Set up a donation jar at your holiday party, collect what you can and give an unexpected gift to a nonprofit or family this holiday season. 

Volunteer your time 

In every community, there are countless organizations like food banks, youth groups, domestic violence shelters, CASA organizations and family resource centers. They always need a helping hand. Volunteering your time at one of these places is an excellent way to help many people. If you prefer something less official, you can always offer to help a parent who has their hands full with babysitting.

Inform new parents or a family in need in the neighborhood you are going to help

Let’s face it, asking for help is a really hard thing for most people to do. Offer it up. Don’t ask parents “what can I do to help?” Instead, take steps to get the neighborhood meal train set up, ask if they have any allergies and what days they would like dinner dropped off. The comfort in knowing there are people around you who support and care about you is a gift unto itself.    

Taking care of yourself is an important part of parenthood. 

Schedule time for an activity that can help you decompress, relax and recharge. Resilience is built by learning healthy coping skills and strategies to manage stress and function well when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma.​ Take care of yourself, to take care of your kids.  

Incorporate charitable Giving into your business model. 

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, corporate social responsibility leads consumers to believe products are better quality. Consider donating a % of sales or proceeds as part of your business model. 

Pick an organization you’ve never given to before and give $5 on Colorado Gives Day 

If you live in Colorado, you likely know that nonprofits are trying so hard to let everyone know to schedule a gift for next Tuesday, Colorado Gives Day. Five dollars is close to the price of a cup of coffee, but we promise you, every little bit helps. Of course, if you have never given to Illuminate before, we hope you’ll think of us, but given that our mission is to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment, you can also help by giving to anyone of the thousands of other organizations strengthening families throughout Colorado. We build brighter childhoods, together.

Today is DAY 32.  

These are just a few of the 61 ways we are encouraging people to light the way toward brighter childhoods before the year is done. Today is DAY 32.  

If you took inspiration from one or more of these ideas, complete the pledge form to let us know that you promise to do one or more of these ways to make a difference and Enter to WIN the Light the Way Prize:

4 general admission entries to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (does not include surcharged temporary exhibits, IMAX, or Planetarium). All 4 entries must be used at time of admission. Entries expire 10/28/22.

Thank you to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for donating this Light the Way Prize to help build brighter childhoods in Colorado. A winner for this prize will be selected at random at 9 AM (MTN) on Tuesday, December 7 and notified at the contact information provided.

NEW Trauma-Informed Communication and Care Provider Education Series

NEW Trauma-Informed Communication and Care Provider Education Series

“We regularly hear from our colleagues that they recognize the importance of taking a trauma-informed approach to patient care, but very few have had the opportunity to receive formal training on trauma-informed care and communication,” said Dr. Laurie Halmo, pediatrician and toxicologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado and co-chair of the Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns Steering Committee work group focused on expanding healthcare provider education resources related to substance use and pregnancy with an emphasis on family leadership and addressing implicit bias. 

Designed by Healthcare Providers, for Healthcare Providers

Now, thanks to Colorado Substance Exposed Newborns Steering Committee Provider Education Work Group and the Colorado Perinatal Care Quality Collaborative, a NEW Trauma-Informed Communication and Care Provider Educational Series designed by healthcare providers, for healthcare providers, is available beginning next Monday. Each session grounded in the perspective of someone with lived experience related to substance use and pregnancy underscores just why this topic is so important.

Anyone who interacts with perinatal patients and their families in a clinical setting, from gynecologists, obstetricians, neonatologists, and pediatricians, to mental/behavioral healthcare providers and social workers, are encouraged to attend. Clinical professionals will walk away with the knowledge and tools to care for individuals in the perinatal period and those who are impacted by substance use in a trauma-informed way that leads to better experiences and outcomes for all. 

NEW Trauma-Informed Communication and Care Provider Education Series 

The educational series includes:


an overview of the impact of trauma on women’s health, mental health, substance use, and experiences with obstetrical care


effective trauma-related screening questions and practical provider and team approaches to improve communication and trauma-informed care in obstetrical settings


practical tools for recognizing and reducing stigma and bias in interactions with patients


practical tools for optimizing brief clinical interactions with individuals impacted by perinatal substance use in a trauma-informed, non-stigmatizing way, including motivational interviewing, attending skills, and the LEAP (Listen, Empathize, Agree, Partner) approach

Five Minutes With My Congressman

Five Minutes With My Congressman

Recently, I had a chance to talk with an aide from the 4th district represented by Congressman Ken Buck about the FASD Respect Act (H.R. 4151 and S.2238).  This piece of legislation could change my family’s life and potentially prevent hundreds of thousands of families from having to follow in our footsteps. 

With no more than five minutes to plead my case, I initially thought of giving the Congressman a snapshot of our family’s life and all the ways exposure to alcohol before birth  has negatively impacted our son, now diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). But, I decided this wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. It sounded too much like a list of complaints, and I didn’t want to sound like a whiner because my son is a loving, good-humored, kind-natured, individual full of potential and resilience. Instead, I made a convincing statement of truth that, I hope, left an indelible impression to help convince our Congressman to co-sponsor  the FASD Respect Act, authorizing $118 million for FASD prevention, screening, identification, research, and FASD-informed services by federal, state, local, tribal and private stakeholders.

I used my five minutes to explain what the FASD Respect Act would mean to our family, the multitudes of families who have loved ones diagnosed with FASD and the many, many people in this country that don’t even realize that FASD exists. As it stands, FASD is a national epidemic of catastrophic proportions. One that few seem to be aware of. This needs to change. It is estimated that up to 1 in 20 U.S. school aged children may have an FASD. It’s 100% preventable and caused when a fetus is exposed to alcohol before birth. You may not realize this, but alcohol is the leading cause of preventable brain injuries.   

We did not find out our son had FASD until he turned 14. That is an injustice to him, more than anyone. We should have known about this the day we brought him home, through foster care, but so many people were (and still are) completely unaware of what FASD is – including the medical field! This means even more people in the general public are unaware and families who have adopted children are particularly unaware. 


Remember, this is a SPECTRUM disorder.  That means FASD presents itself in various extremes.


PHOTO CREDIT: This photo was taken by the author’s son while they were on a walk together.

We adopted our son, who has FASD, when he was only a few months old.  Symptoms were not easy to detect at this age and he was meeting most of his developmental milestones.  What would have been helpful was knowing that his mother was drinking alcohol when he was in utero. This is another major issue with FASD.  What issue is that you may ask? Getting women to actually share that they drank while pregnant for fear of public ridicule.  We, as a society, must not hold judgment over women who have done this.  Rather, they should be supported in what to do next.  Don’t stigmatize another human being when there are many areas that each of us can grow in and learn from about others and ourselves.

Symptoms in our son really started showing up when he was a little bit older in his infancy, mostly in the form of sensory processing disorder.  He was hyper-sensitive to certain sounds, certain bodily feelings and certain textures and tastes that caused him to become extremely agitated.  He would have complete meltdowns if the wind was too strong.  Little did we know that these were the beginning signs of FASD.  

As he has gotten older he’s shown even more significant signs.  These symptoms have included problem-solving skills (specifically math), memory issues (doesn’t remember something I literally told him 10 minutes before), ability to remain attentive (Over the Hedge- Squirrel!), difficulty in maintaining friendships (he has difficulty associating with his peers), and understanding consequences (I’ve tried every reward/consequence strategy in the book, to no avail).  You might be thinking, “This is just how teenagers are!”  I assure you, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Remember, this is a SPECTRUM disorder.  That means FASD presents itself in various extremes.  

Thankfully, information about FASD is becoming more readily available, but not nearly enough. The FASD Respect Act can rapidly accelerate the prevention and the education of the masses. If we had only known about our son’s FASD earlier we would have sought specific treatments recommended by professionals who knew what needed to be done once the diagnosis was made.  We informed our son’s pediatrician as well as others including the foster care system, various medical practitioners, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and school systems throughout the years about what we were experiencing.  Not one of them ever mentioned FASD as a cause. 

Still, it is the season of gratitude and I’m thankful that our son has his FASD diagnosis, and I’m thankful that I was heard by the Congressman’s office. I hear stories on shows like The FASD Success Show and read stories of adults who have come to this diagnosis later in life struggling to live independently, unable to hold down a job, or even getting into trouble with the law. These struggles later in life for families unaware of FASD in their lives will be so much more costly than not acting right now. The more we know the more we can act. The more we can act, the more we can bring about change. As much hurt, anger and sadness that FASD has caused our family, it has also brought out an absolute determination to bring about change; and given me an opportunity to connect with a “united front” of parents, adult survivors and organizations, like FASD United and the Colorado Chapter of FASD United – Illuminate Colorado, fighting for resources needed to increase education and prevention

We believe our son will continue to positively contribute to the world around him, but we also know he and every other individual with FASD can be much better represented and much better served if the FASD Respect Act is passed in the House and Senate.  

Our History Together

In 2017, the Colorado Chapter of NOFAS (now called FASD United) was among the four independent nonprofit organizations in Colorado that consolidated to leverage resources and increase capacity to more effectively prevent child maltreatment in Colorado. Since then, we’ve grown exponentially in service of our mission to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment.


About the Author

This article was written by a father of  four beautiful children, three of whom have been adopted.  He is committed to sharing the experiences of his family impacted by FASD, anonymously, through the Becoming FASD Aware blog series to strengthen families and build awareness. 

Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Illuminating Child Care is Expanding to the San Luis Valley

Over the course of the next couple of months, the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley is taking Acorn – Illuminate’s newest renovated RV providing on-site child care – on a tour of the San Luis Valley, stopping at locations that are helping to strengthen families–like recovery and treatment centers–to showcase this exciting new service that is by the people of the Valley, for the people of the Valley.

“The Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley envisions a community where all members prioritize and invest in our children to build a thriving society. This means supporting families and meeting them where they are. We strive to support parents’ health & wellbeing so they can in turn support optimal development of their children. What many of our families with high needs require is timely and coordinated services and this on-site child care classroom does just that! In partnership with Illuminate Colorado and our local service providers, we can make a difference in our community. We are excited to be able to pilot this greatly needed service in the San Luis Valley,” said Sherri Valdez, executive director of the Early Childhood Council San Luis Valley.

The early years of life – from belly to age eight – are very important for learning and development. That’s because during the first few years, children’s brains are developing fast. In fact, more than one million new brain connections form every second! Because of this, the experiences and relationships that young children have in the early years can impact them for life.

When families struggling to manage life’s challenges and the demands of raising children are also faced with the challenge of finding high quality child care, it can stand in the way of strengthening families. In fact, studies have shown difficulty finding child care is a stronger predictor of maternal neglect than almost any other factor, including mental health, severity of drug use, history of abuse as a child & use of public assistance.(1) This is why Illuminating Child Care is such an innovative and essential part of solving the child care crisis in Colorado.

Beginning with Honey last year servicing the Denver Metro area, Illuminate unveiled the first innovative on-site child care classroom.  “As a single mother, and as a single mother in recovery, the greatest barrier to me being able to complete those tasks that I need to complete and stay on track would be child care,” said Karie, one of several parents who depended on Illuminating Child Care when Honey first hit the road. “Honey is allowing me, as a mother, to stay on top of those other parts of my life so well.” A year later, we’re expanding to the San Luis Valley thanks in large part to the leadership of the Early Childhood Council of the San Luis Valley.

The cornerstone of Illuminating Child Care is its renovated RVs, which serve as on-site child care classrooms providing drop-in care for young children. Acorn was created with its fun-loving squirrels and custom features designed with healthy child development in mind.

Children learn through play, and creating a classroom that offers hands-on manipulation, role-play and practice, free choice, cooperation, and decision-making experiences serve just this purpose. Age and developmental appropriate items, such as climbing stairs, the book nook, and the toddler potty and sink, were designed around a young child’s unique needs.

Parents and caregivers will be able to drop off their young children at partner locations and feel confident that the teachers on Acorn will help their little ones learn and grow while they are getting the support they need to strengthen their families.

“We are so excited about this next phase of Illuminating Child Care and the partnership with the San Luis Valley. It takes all of us to create brighter childhoods for all children in Colorado and, together, we can take some of the weight off of our parents’ shoulders as they are working to tackle some really hard challenges,” said Patsy Bruce, child care manager at Illuminate Colorado.

Become an Illuminating Child Care Partner

Download the Illuminating Child Care San Luis Valley Informational Flyer.



1 Cash, S. J., & Wilke, D. J. (2003). An ecological model of maternal substance abuse and child neglect: Issues, analyses, and recommendations. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 73(4), 392-404; Yang, M. Y., & Maguire-Jack, K. (2016). Predictors of basic needs and supervisory neglect: Evidence from the Illinois Families Study. Children and Youth Services Review, 67, 20-26.

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

Promoting Focused Eye-Hand Coordination

A picture is worth a thousand words! However, focused eye-hand coordination are the four words that come to my mind when I look at this photograph. This picture captures a baby focusing on the objects in front of her and then reaching out for them--a perfect example...

Shape Our Future–Vote!

Shape Our Future–Vote!

Every election is an opportunity to shape our communities, and the 2021 election is no different. While there are no people on the ballot, there are a number of state and local financial issues that will impact the lives of Colorado kids and families. 

The 2021 election is on Tuesday, November 2nd.

Voting is our chance to stand up for our families and our communities, and we ALL deserve to have our voices heard this election season.

By now, you likely have already received your ballot by mail. However, if you’re not registered to vote or haven’t seen your ballot yet, it’s not too late! Check out Go Vote Colorado to register to vote, check your registration, and more. You can also find information specific to your county here.

Here are some key dates in Colorado: 

    • Now through November 2 – Drop boxes are available and polling centers are open across the state. 
    • Tuesday, October 26 – If you haven’t mailed your ballot by this day, then plan to drop it off in a ballot box or head to a polling center instead.
    • Tuesday, November 2 – Election Day! Polls will be open 7am-7pm.

In Colorado, you can register to vote and vote in person up to 7pm on Election Day. If you filled your ballot out at home, be sure to turn it in at a dropbox by 7pm!

Voting lets us weigh in on the issues that are most important to us. Be a role model for your community and vote! 

Need more information before you fill out your ballot?

If you’re looking for the 2021 Blue Book, you can find it: 

And, to learn more about how 2021 ballot measures impact kids and families, check out the Colorado Children’s Campaign Voter Guide.

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