Parents Anonymous facilitator helps strengthen families


MADELINE "Maddie" Zimmerman says her interest and motivation in life is in making families healthier.

She volunteers to Parents Anonymous of Maryland as a group facilitator in a self-help support group at Harundale Presbyterian Church each week.

PA is a non-profit agency dedicated to strengthening families and treating child abuse and neglect. Free and volunteer-based, the service is offered statewide.

"Cherishing children," Zimmerman says, "is the mark of a civilized society, and it must begin in the home.

"Every parent needs the kind of support that lets them learn that hitting is to teach fear but discipline is equal to teaching.

"I don't like to use the word abuse, but any time a person hits another it is abuse, and we cannot break the cycle of violence until we break the cycle of hitting children," she says.

When Zimmerman hears a parent say "I don't abuse my children, I just spank them," she is quick to note that "if they think spanking works, then they must think how many times they've spanked for the same thing. When we start to think in terms of that, we do some changing.

"Parents must get their children involved in their own discipline," she adds.

Janet, for instance, a mother with six children who sought help from PA, has been a success story. Zimmerman says that she is "the perfect example that the best can come out of help.

"At first she had no idea how to discipline a child other than hitting it. Now she is the biggest advocate of non-violence and learning to discipline with communication and other ways. Janet is a willing participant in the programs, and she speaks with and helps others as well."

An outspoken and confident Janet, 36, came to Parents Anonymous two years ago. She has five sons ages 11, 10, 7, 5 and 22 months plus a 3-month-old daughter,

"I can't measure the help I got here. They not only taught me, they became a cheering squad for me. I learned that a slap is an animalistic quality. And, I discovered that a slap solves nothing, it is just easier to do than taking time and words," says Janet, who also says she gained the confidence to go back to nursing school.

Maddie Zimmerman became involved with issues of domestic violence and the effect it has on children about seven years ago when she was a parenting specialist in the battered spouse shelter of the Anne Arundel County Y.M.C.A. "I gravitated toward Parents Anonymous and have been volunteering there for about four years, working with some of the families for most of that time."

She has three daughters and lives in Anne Arundel County. She is a group workshop instructor for Parent Effectiveness Training in Annapolis, which addresses parenting issues and communication. She is also an aerobics instructor at Body Business in Annapolis.

PA programs include parent support groups that meet generally in the evenings in Baltimore and the counties. Meetings have two facilitators and two child-care volunteers. And there is ACT, Adolescent Coping Together, which is for teen-agers from dysfunctional and/or potentially abusive families; PANDA, Parent Aides Nurturing and Discovering, is a program to meet the needs of the parents. And there is a program of nurturing and care for children up to 12 years given while their parents attend weekly support meetings.

A 24-hour Parent Stress-line (243-7337) is for crisis and information. Collect calls are accepted. Trained volunteers receive calls forwarded to their homes during scheduled hours.

In 1990, PA served 4,623 individuals with the help of 442 volunteers who gave 57,460 hours of time statewide.

Its main office is at 1123 N. Eutaw St. Volunteers are needed, and volunteer coordinator Mindy Amor welcomes inquiries at 728-7021.

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