Frontline Initiative Teamwork

Building a Sense of Teamwork with Families


Jill Latteri is a social worker at Green Chimneys Children’s Services in Brewster, New York

Green Chimneys is a residential program located on a 150-acre farm in Brewster, New York. The program serves 89 children with emotional difficulties, ranging in age from six to fifteen. Most of the children are experiencing significant emotional, behavioral, and academic difficulties to the extent that they are unable to remain in their homes and communities. The task at hand is to put support services together, which would permit the children to return to their homes or some other permanent placement.

Family weekend, a tradition at Green Chimneys, is an exciting and unique experience offered as part of the program. It began as an idea of the Parents Action Committee (PAC) six years ago. PAC, as a group, decided that they would like to see a “day in the life of their child” at Green Chimneys. It began as “Family Farm Weekend” to give families, including parents and siblings, a chance to spend the weekend at Green Chimneys. The goal of the weekend is to bring families together, find common issues between staff, families and people who receive supports, and to break down any barriers if they exist. This model developed at Green Chimneys is one that could perhaps be replicated by other agencies in their attempts to bring together direct support staff and their families.

The most important aspect of the weekend is the reoccurring theme of teamwork. From the beginning planning phases to the closing ceremony, the weekend revolves around building teams. 

Family Weekend looks something like this. It begins on a Friday night, staff greet the families upon arrival and the evening is spent networking and learning more about the services offered by the agency. Saturday morning begins bright and early, with an activity designed to get people moving, such as a hike or a swim. After breakfast, the families and staff are introduced to a wide range of challenging games and activities intended to build teamwork. These activities include such things as “trust walks” where they are blindfolded and guided by other weekend participants, canoeing and relay races. Another teambuilding activity included in this weekend is a cooking activity in which the parents previously sent in lists of ingredients needed to prepare their own special dish. During this activity, the parents are able to use the teamwork methods learned earlier to work cooperatively with each other in the kitchen. When using these methods, the sharing of the limited supplies and small space of the kitchen proves to be an easier task. The families and staff then join together to enjoy the meal.

The weekend also includes an evening activity called “Letting Go.” This activity starts with the group leader leading the members through guided imagery of a journey. The family members are then asked to write down on a piece of paper emotional issues that they desire to “let go.” The group then stands around the bonfire and one at a time tosses their “emotional issues” into the fire in an effort to symbolize people moving forward to a more positive future.

The closing event is a candle lighting ceremony used to offer closure for the families who attend the Family Weekend activities. Each individual participant (staff and family members) shares with the group his or her thoughts and feelings about his or her experiences over the weekend and then lights the candle of the next person.

The relationships that develop from these weekends are significant. Many parents acquire new friends, learning that they have much in common with one another. They learn from each other, support each other, form networks with each other, and look forward to future opportunities to get together. The weekend also provides an opportunity for staff to build a better rapport with families, seeing them on a more personal level, rather than just a professional level. The staff are able to witness the dynamics of a family and learn just how much the parents love and want the best for their children. The rewards of this team-building weekend are endless and the experience is priceless.