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Purdue Extension: Building resilience in communities

Crises often leave families feeling helpless and out of control. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception as Hoosiers face the loss of jobs, resources, life experiences and social contacts. With the help of Purdue Extension, Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences is helping families cope with change and even find positivity during the pandemic.

Led by Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, distinguished professor of human development and family studies, over 70 faculty, staff and students volunteered to create and implement Families Tackling Tough Times Together, a free program constructed around the idea of assisting people put in tough situations because of the pandemic. Implemented through a Facebook group and a website, the program shares daily activities families can use to support each other while building resilience at the same time.

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“I asked myself – what should a land grant university be doing during a global health crisis? To me, it seemed that we should reach out beyond our own gate to be helpful to the people we serve. Because we are a credible and trusted source, we knew it was important to curate helpful, research-based information into an easily digestible form that is accessible for all,” said MacDermid Wadsworth.

“The initiative is an internet-based engagement effort aimed at providing families and professionals working with families ideas and content to support family resilience during the pandemic. Lockdowns and self-isolation present enormous challenges to families as they juggled stress and uncertainty. But they also provided a great opportunity for families to grow because they were spending so much time together and wanted to support and help each other,” said MacDermid Wadsworth.

brochure encouraging families to talk a share emotions in difficult times while isolation and social distancing

The framework of the program is based on the research of Froma Walsh, a well-known scholar and marriage and family therapist. Walsh’s research focuses on family strengths in nine separate themes. Families Tackling Tough Times Together focuses on one theme each week, providing carefully vetted materials tailored for all age groups in a family. Engaging and fun activities are created to fit into everyday routines in addition to podcasts with experts, live events and community engagement activities.

Purdue Extension educators are reaching audiences across all 92 Indiana counties through programming. They are also providing feedback to the committee to improve the program and its inclusiveness. Linda Curley, Purdue Extension health and human sciences educator in Lake County, is one of the educators working to bring the research-based information from campus to local communities.

“In our programming, we saw the problems and stressors that people in our communities were dealing with first hand. During the lockdowns, we saw co-parents struggling to stay connected to their children because they lived in different locations. We connected with women staying in women shelters, young adults who were forced to leave their university early, families not expecting to have children move back home and older generations struggling with isolation,” said Curley.

brochure telling families that grief is normal, it's not about moving on but about moving forward (tackling tough times together in community)

“When we heard these comments and struggles from our communities, we went back and shared with the committee and asked how can we address it in our work. We continually pivoted to meet the needs of everyone to address stressors, isolation, overcoming adversity, financial issues and much more. We created materials for people in all communities, offered materials in Spanish and English, continuously striving to be as inclusive as possible.

“This program is about the family as a whole – teens, older adults, parents with younger children, and ultimately helping Indiana communities rally around each other during this time of crisis.”

Families can access past and upcoming resources from the Families Tackling Tough Times Together group and the Facebook group.

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