Haggiths create a family of volunteers

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 14, 2013 

Haggith

From left to right Phillip Haggith, Juliette Haggith, David Haggith, Tina Haggith, Tasha Haggith and exchange student Michael Gutierrez from the Czech Republic at their home. The Haggith Family volunteers with Rebound of Whatcom County during the October-April sessions of parenting and childhood behavior classes.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

The run-around lifestyle that comes along with shuttling kids to sports, clubs and different schools is not foreign to the Haggith family. With three kids of their own between 11 and 16 years old, and an 18-year-old exchange student from the Czech Republic, Tina and David Haggith are about as far away from couch-potatoes as they come. Each child attends a different school, and every family member is involved in several activities, from snowboarding to scouts. So it may come as a surprise that when a friend ran into them at a coffee shop and mentioned a new program she was working with, the family decided to jump on board as volunteers.

Two years ago, Ramona Slagle, program director at Rebound of Whatcom County, ran into David and Tina while grabbing coffee. Slagle, who knew the family from Grace Baptist Church, told them about the not-for-profit, which works with young and at-risk families, and encouraged them to volunteer.

From October to April each year, Rebound offers parenting and behavior classes for parents and children once a week along with a free meal. The classes focus on respectful behavior, manners and parenting techniques.

When Tina heard about the program, she felt compelled to encourage her family to help out.

"Ramona's explanation really pulled on my heart strings," Tina says. "I went home and presented it to the family to see what they thought, and they liked the idea."

Around the same time, the family had been considering volunteering for mission work, so the opportunity seemed perfect, Tina says.

"You know, we hear of these people going off to foreign countries and getting involved in mission programs, but it's just not that practical for our family," she says. "We were offered a mission opportunity right here in our backyard working for Rebound."

Though Rebound started as a program through Cornwall Church, Slagle says the programs are not about evangelizing and the group is open to all participants.

The educational program splits children and parents up by age for the weekly classes. The Haggiths spread out to help with each different group. David works as a support volunteer for the parenting class, offering stories from his own experience and helping Rebound staff with the planned lessons. Tina and her daughters, Juliette and Tasha, have helped provide childcare for the duration of the two-hour classes to the youngest kids. The couple's son, Phillip, works with middle school-aged children, and this fall the family's exchange student, Michael Gutierrez, will also join in volunteering at the meetings.

Working with the program and the children involved has helped the Haggith kids appreciate their own family more, Tina says.

"It's so easy for anyone to get wrapped up in themself," she says. "My kids have really developed an appreciation for what they have, not just financially but also for the support from our family."

Volunteers get the chance to spend one-on-one time with young participants, which is something that may be missing from many of their lives, Tina says.

"We're able to help with real basic stuff about manners and patience, and kindness to each other," Tina says. "They're some things we assume kids get naturally, but sometimes they don't."

Even though she and her daughters work with the pre-school age group, Tina says they often see a marked difference in the way kids behave as they come to the meetings more often.

"These kids respond so quickly, it's amazing," she says. "Children learn and respond very fast."

Watching the transformation in behavior in both the participants and her own children has been meaningful for Tina.

"They're thankful for what they have," she says about her own kids. "I hope they will grow up to help others."

Phillip, 16, says the experience has taught him about interacting with individuals.

"One of the biggest things you can learn is not taking people for granted," he says. "To know someone you have to know where they're from."

Pulling kids into the group and getting them to participate can be one of the biggest challenges with the middle school group, Phillip says.

"Kids really grow up a lot in that time period," he says. "Sometimes they have self-esteem issues, and you have to find a way to convince them that joining the group is what they want to do."

Rebound of Whatcom County's On Track Parenting Classes will run on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. starting in early October. Dinner is provided at no cost from 6 to 6:30 p.m. Those interested in participating must register for the dinner and classes. Find out more information by contacting Ramona Slagle at 360-714-0700, ext. 203.

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