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AUBURN | Anita Whitaker said she loves being part of her community.

On Sunday afternoon, Whitaker was one of a small group of parents who came together for the Auburn Community Cafe at Auburn United Methodist Church to share family stories and learn from each other.

"I love the importance of coming together as a community," Whitaker said. "And I just love being with my neighbors and learning about people within our community."

The meeting is one of five gatherings focused on parent and family support within the community and is made possible by a New York state grant.

The two-hour event kicked off with an ice-breaker to get people moving and talking followed by small group activities. Parents ranged in age but they shared similar triumphs and tribulations. Sibling rivalry, sibling love, limitations, and the challenges of dealing with smart children were all topics of discussion relating to stress. And whether there were families consisting of two children or five, they all found common ground in learning to cope with what can sometimes be stressful parenting.

For Tricia Hartwell, the challenge is in dealing with children of different ages, she said. Hartwell has two teenage stepdaughters, and one daughter who's nearly three.

"I love that the older girls are so appreciative of what I do for them and that they value any advice that I can give them," she said. "And I love watching my three-year-old's personality come out but there are definitely moments that are more challenging than others."

Volunteer Katie MacIntyre and Paula Carroll lead the small group discussion encouraging parents to answer three questions specifically relating to stress. Their goal, they said, is to get parents talking and to focus on strengthening families through helpful guided conversation.

They chose to deal with the topic of stress because of the time of year, they said.

"I think this is a great time of year to talk about stress," MacIntyre said. "Especially just after the holiday. There is always so much going on and it's a good time to let parents and families know that they're not alone."

Children also attended and participated in their own Children Community Cafe. The program offers childcare to parents interested in attending the meetings. Children are supervised by YMCA staff and Auburn High School student volunteers and have their own set of activities.

Betsy DeGroff, a YMCA staff member, was helping children make paper snowflakes and mold Play-Doh on Sunday. The daycare portion of the program is an effective way to get everyone in the family involved and create a safe space for parents to bring their children.

 "We're just happy to be able to provide a place for parents to take their children so that they can sit in on the meetings every month," she said. "This is a big part of tonight's meeting and you can see by the large group that there are plenty of children here. We're excited about that, to be able to offer childcare and give parents a chance to learn from each other."

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Staff writer Sistina Giordano can be reached at 282-2237 or Follow her on Twitter at CitizenGiordano.