We are so grateful for the staff, volunteers and donors who help make the PRC's mission possible. We are excited to spotlight Jessica Pac, Ph.D., who recently volunteered to help us research the needs of families in our community and evaluate how our programming meets those needs.
Dr. Pac is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work. Her research focuses on the role of social policies in improving infant and maternal health, understanding the causes and consequences of child abuse and neglect, and physician decision making. She is also a “PRC mom” who brought her young children to the center when she lived in Corning several years ago.
When we asked Dr. Pac to help us research our community and, we were so happy that this busy professor and mother of three said yes. Below is an interview with Dr. Pac about why she personally and professionally values the PRC as a resource for families in our community.
How did the PRC serve your young family?
We moved to Corning before the birth of our first son for my husband’s work after a stint in Stockholm, Sweden. After giving birth, the long dark winter that followed was brightened by a friend’s invitation to the PRC (former Executive Director, Shena Rossettie). Long coffee-fueled conversations nurtured my longing for sanity and intellectual stimulation, while giving me the tools that later turned out to be invaluable to parenting. By watching other parents, I learned how to parent my own children, the value of connection, and that of asking for help. Most importantly, the PRC provided something I’ve never had since we left Corning – a place to go. Turns out that an accessible, affordable, and clean play space is a luxury in other cities and states. Similar venues in New York City required memberships upwards of $250/month, and other smaller towns that we’ve lived in (Ithaca, NY & Madison, WI) have nothing remotely similar of which I’m aware.
You live in WI now – what made you want to volunteer on this project?
We know that supporting young families is critical to many aspects of development, family functioning, and children’s long-term success. I can accredit much of my own growth as a parent and that of my children to the PRC, so it is my honor and pleasure to devote my time and effort to support a truly outstanding program.
What were some of the highlights of your research about the general population that we serve – families with young children in Corning and the surrounding areas? What were the key areas of needs that you helped identify?
Contrasting Corning and the surrounding areas to the rest of New York state, Corning has several clear advantages. Namely, Steuben county residents have higher rates of homeownership and higher high school graduation rates. At the same time, there are several concerning statistics that the PRC aims to address. As residents in Steuben and Chemung are up to 5 times more likely to live in rural communities, service provision is hampered by relatively higher transportation costs and lower rates of internet access. Further, early childhood education enrollment in both Steuben and Chemung counties are well below New York state and US average. Health measures are also concerning, as the infant and child mortality rates exceed the state average by around 20% and adult life expectancy is 2 – 4 years shorter, as suggested by considerably higher rates of poor physical and mental health. Critically, Steuben and Chemung counties’ high rates of suicide and mental distress point to the need for increased support for mental health. Compounding the relatively higher rates of depression among Medicare recipients relative to the balance of the state (13 to 22 %), New Yorkers reported high levels of anxiety and depression (34 to 41%) following the COVID-19 outbreak, a significant increase over 2019 national levels of 11% (CDC 2020 Household Pulse Survey, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) 2019 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Early Release Program).
How did you find that data?
Finding data is an important part of my job. To understand what is known on a topic, the onus is on the researcher to sort what we know from what is unknown. This way, we can develop research to substantively build knowledge. A critical first step to answering a question using data is to clearly define the question, imagining the ideal data one would use to answer said question. Second, I spend a great deal of time identifying candidate data. In conducting research, this process yielded an extensive spreadsheet of secondary data.
In what ways does PRC programming meet the needs of our local community?
A growing literature suggests that access to resources and services is essential to ensuring that children thrive during early childhood. The problem is that many children and their families cannot readily access resources that are available to them, especially those living in relatively rural regions such as Western New York. Before entering school, the type and variety of resources available to families turns out to be very important, setting children on a pathway for success in adulthood. The PRC provides an array of resources that are beneficial to all children, especially to those who would otherwise not have similar experiences until entering kindergarten. Further, the PRC is an access point for other resources beyond the scope of their purview.
Now for a few fun questions…what do you do when you’re not working?
I enjoy drinking copious amounts of coffee and lemon spindrift, reading, spending time with my family including my three bouncing boys, running, and new this year, cross country skiing.
What was your favorite childhood game?
Scrabble, without a doubt.