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Members of HANDS recently celebrated the opening of their new facility at the former Mehoopany Elementary school during an open house. Participating at the event included, from left, Dean Hutchins, Cathy Franko, Alisha Myers, Brenda Mills, Tabitha El, and Becky Corby.

Since its move to the former Mehoopany Elementary School, HANDS of Wyoming County has experienced growth beyond anyone’s expectations in just nine months.

“The growth of the program is just unimaginable,” said HANDS Executive Director Cathy Franko. “We never thought by moving to this location that the potential to grow and expand and offer these different services would exist.”

The program was formerly housed in the Tunkhannock Area School District’s administration building, but had to move after the district consolidated its buildings.

Those involved with HANDS were cautious about relocating to Mehoopany at first. They worried that getting people to out to this area might be a struggle, as many perceive it as being far away.

Fortunately, they found the opposite. Classrooms were filled easily, story hour numbers doubled and in October, Franko said the program’s emergency food bank served 152 people thanks to a new connection with Walmart.

“We’re finding that once they come here and once they make the drive, they come back,” she said. “We just have to get them here once to show them everything this building has to offer, and they will end up coming back.”

The move has connected HANDS to other organizations and through casual conversation, ideas came about, which in turn became programs that were later implemented.

“The success of those programs expanded into additional programs. It’s just a domino effect and we’re glad it happened,” Franko said.

The Family Resource Center has been flourishing since the move. In addition to seeing more faces at story hour than when they were located at the administration building, the community has been utilizing the learning-lending library and education lab.

“We’re just kind of a community resource for everyone,” said Family Resource Center Coordinator Brenda Mills, who also noted that the center keeps a running list of area services such as day cares and mental health counseling, even for families that do not have children.

HANDS is also in the process of installing a community garden at its new facility, which will grow flowers and vegetables. The Tunkhannock STEM Academy is constructing the garden beds.

“We’re super excited about that,” Franko said.

Over the summer, children in the FANS (Focused Activity Nutrition Success) Camp will maintain the garden, and Franko anticipates supplementing the food bank with fresh vegetables after harvest time.

The Parents as Teachers program at HANDS has also seen positive results from moving to Mehoopany.

This program conducts home visits, helps parents understand what to expect as their child develops, conducts screenings if there are areas of concern with development and makes referrals for other resources.

Becky Corby, director of the Parents as Teachers program, said moving to Mehoopany has allowed HANDS to access a whole section of the community that they were missing by being in town, as families in rural communities are not always able to access programs.

“Parents as Teachers is home visiting, so it doesn’t matter where you live in the county, we come to you,” she said. “But as far as connecting those families to perhaps group connection, being able to offer it here in an area where there’s not a lot of activities going on for families is a nice change.”

Tabitha El of HANDS conducts home visits and directs the Family Skills Training program geared around child development with Children and Youth clients.

“We also just started with the drug court clients under Judge [Russell] Shurtleff,” El said. “Things have just exploded here as far as what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short period of time… That just shows me the need for these services in the community.”

The move to Mehoopany has also allowed HANDS to begin offering private pay preschool for those who do not qualify for the Pre-K Counts or Head Start programs.

The Department of Human Services recently inspected one classroom and gave a provisional license for a private pay class.

“This is the first time we are branching out to private pay families,” Franko said, noting that people who were over-income for the other programs had asked about it before. “Now hopefully we’ll be able to accommodate those families.”

For more information about HANDS of Wyoming County, visit hands-wyco.org.