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Playgroup connects parents, children

Heidi Grosz plays with her toddler daughter Charli at Little Links in Dickinson on Thursday.1 / 2
Dana Schoo helps her 2-year-old daughter Ava color on Thursday at Little Links in Dickinson. Schoo moved here with her husband in July from Michigan and volunteers a few days a week at Little Links, helping make coffee or clean up when playtime is over. O2 / 2

Community-run Little Links creates an opportunity for parents, children to make friends

Kimberly and Eric Jayjohn moved to North Dakota from Ohio three years ago. They have since welcomed a daughter, Adleigh, who is 16 months old.

On Thursday, Kimberly brought Adleigh from their home in New England to Dickinson for a playgroup, a place the two go occasionally so Adleigh can meet children her age, and Kimberly can do the same.

The group, Little Links, was started by people from different agencies who work with families and their young children. The group’s goal is to help young parents and their children who are new to southwest North Dakota meet one another.

“Some of the parents that we talked to were sharing that they’d met people that had moved here, but the wife or the mom and the children were moving away because they hadn’t connected with people,” said Missi Baranko, one of the Little Links organizers. “Or, just talked to moms more specifically and that they were feeling lonely or didn’t know anybody yet or wanted things to do when they were home with their children.”

Enter Little Links, Dickinson’s first community playgroup, run completely by volunteers and donations.

The group opened in the old Lyons Concrete office space on south State Avenue in October and serves as a place where parents and their children can play and socialize.

“We wanted it to be a place where parents could connect and not feel so isolated,” Baranko said.

It is not a day care substitute. Parents or caregivers must be at Little Links the whole time their child is there. Parents sign in and sanitize when they first walk in the door.

“Everybody cleans up, everybody helps because it’s so community-run that people appreciate that and want to keep it open,” Baranko said. “That’s been great to see, too.”

Volunteers open and close the center each morning. Little Links is open from 9-11 a.m. every day but Sunday, Baranko said.

The opening volunteer unlocks the facility and makes coffee. The closing volunteer ensures all the toys are wiped down and put back in the appropriate room. There is a small library full of children’s books, a room with some general toys, one dedicated to age-appropriate arts and crafts and a room filled with toys for the children to ride. There is a small kitchen area where parents can feed snacks to their kids, but snacks are not provided on a regular basis.

“Once a month, we’ll have a birthday party for all children that have a birthday that month,” Baranko said.

Because the center is run on volunteers and donations — all of the toys and books and even the space is donated — it remains free for anyone to participate, Baranko said.

“We want to make sure it’s accessible to all families,” Baranko said. “We had conversations with many partners and people and we wanted to make sure it was free for everybody to attend.”

While Little Links takes monetary donations, they mostly ask the parents to bring cleaning supplies, paper products or coffee to help keep the place running, Baranko said.

Their current space is temporary — it works well for now, but it is a converted office space, Baranko said. The group is in the process of looking for a permanent location.

Most of the children who come to Little Links are toddlers to preschoolers. But parents, especially those that homeschool, are allowed to bring older children, volunteer Dana Schoo said.

In addition to being a place to play, it’s a place for parents and children to learn, Baranko said. They’ve hosted question-and-answer sessions with doctors and other child care professionals, and have a resource library for parents getting to know the community.

Little Links

Address: 72 State Ave. S., Dickinson

Hours: Monday through Saturday 9-11 a.m.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206