MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Middlesex County youngsters who spent time in the Family Court Children’s Waiting Room this summer also have enjoyed a special experience – an introduction to the world of Urban Birds.
The Raritan Valley YMCA, the agency contracted by Middlesex County to operate the child care facility within the Family Courthouse, received a grant from Cornell University to involve youth ages 3 to 13 in bird-related projects and learning.
“It has been our goal to provide a less stressful, more relaxed environment for the children,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti, chair of the County’s Human Services and Senior Services Committee. “The bird watching program provides an educational and fun distraction from the court proceedings and may even instill a life-long love of nature. I’m very pleased the Raritan Valley YMCA could offer this innovative program that improved the quality of care we can provide.”
Families of the children and Family Court staff members also were involved in some of the activities, which included:
- Arts and crafts projects that involved building birdhouses and feeders, creating bird sculptures, photography, origami and related paper crafts.
- A reading component, including bird-related stories, work sheets and poetry.
- The use of interactive learning components, including videos, games, coloring sheets, window bird watching and room decorations.
- Gardening activities, including outdoor containers, window boxes, and an indoor classroom plant box.
- Educational packets distributed to families on the establishment of home gardens and the study of birds.
These new and creative activities help provide a diversion from the anxiety children and families often feel when engaged in family court matters. They also provide a joyful experience in discovering new information about urban birds and their environment. Many of the children who attend the courthouse waiting room program are from urban areas and have limited exposure to nature and outdoor education opportunities.
“This project is such a wonderful opportunity to provide an appreciation and awareness of nature to the youth involved in our courthouse community,” said Presiding Family Court Judge Deborah J. Venezia.
“The grant has afforded the YMCA the ability to diversify and strengthen the activities offered in the waiting room, especially for older children who attend when school is out,” said Gina Stravic, executive director of the Raritan Valley YMCA. “Our hope is that as a result of the activities offered, the youngsters are more aware of the different types of birds in the city and how birds interact with people, plants and the general urban environment.”
The courthouse is surrounded by concrete walkways, curbs and paved streets, so gardening activities will be accomplished in the form of outdoor containers, window boxes and an indoor classroom plant box.
The urban bird activities place the courthouse waiting room and environs in a positive light by focusing on green environments in a downtown setting.
The six weeks of urban bird study and learning will culminate with a celebration event at 1:30 p.m. July 29 at the Family Court building. Court staff, Family Court judges, Freeholders and other invited guests will attend.
Artwork and crafts developed by the children during the summer activity will be displayed in the Children’s Waiting Room and other locations in the Family Court facility on New Street in New Brunswick.
Employees, visitors and families of children who attend the courthouse waiting room will receive urban bird kits.
The Children’s Waiting Room at the Family Court is a collaborative venture between the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the New Jersey Superior Court. The room was established in 2002 and expanded in 2009 to more than double its size.
“The Freeholders and the Superior Court in Middlesex County have a strong partnership that helps us both meet the changing needs of the people we serve,” said Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano. “The addition of two court rooms, the expansion of the Children’s Waiting Room and the enhanced programming for the child care facility illustrate what can be done when we work together.”
Last December, the Freeholders and the State Superior Court unveiled a fourth-floor expansion of the Family Courthouse and renovated children’s waiting room. In the first five months of 2010, waiting room attendance increased by more than 16 percent. On average, more than 500 youngsters, ranging from infants to adolescents, attend the program each month.
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