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The beauty of Free Families Forward

There are some people who just buzz with energy. If the stars align and they discover their true calling, well, then, watch out! Such is the case with Samantha Sloane Cole and the nonprofit Free Families Forward (FFF) — an absolutely incredible organization.

It all started in July 2011, when Cole was looking for something creative and productive to do with her children in her hometown of Pine Plains, but was left feeling unfulfilled. She was also hoping to do some volunteer work in the community. That’s when she had the brainchild to organize Toddler Time, a playgroup for children and their caregivers at the Pine Plains Free Library. From there grew Free Families Forward — an organization that has produced some of the most interesting and productive programs in the Harlem Valley.

Where to begin? There’s the Community Farm to Community Pantry Project, which began with a small plot behind Town Hall (which has already doubled) and donated more than 300 pounds of organic produce to the Pine Plains Food Locker for the hungry. The farm is always looking for volunteers to help water, weed and harvest, which sound like chores but with Cole’s energy actually promise to be fun and entertaining. Local students are among those who help with those responsibilities. The fact the farm has already yielded so much produce seems as if it must be due to Cole’s nearly contagious can-do attitude (as well as Farm Manager Elena McEneaney).

Then there are the many programs to enjoy at the HoPP (Heart of Pine Plains) community center, just above the library. Walkers can enjoy Pine Plains Pedestrians or Free Flow, and get their regular exercise (both in and outside). There’s the aforementioned Toddler Time, which provides a chance for young ones to read, sing, play games, do crafts, socialize and learn basic fundamentals. Want something a little faster-paced? Perhaps Families’ Fitness is more your speed. It’s an “all ages fitness class that will incorporate yoga, dance and cardiovascular exercise,” according to www.freefamiliesforward.org. There is a Family Photo Fun class, a Wilderness Watcher’s Walk weekly hike and a Computer Companion class. All activities are free and so easy to access.

There have also been other events in surrounding communities, like free swim evaluations in Millbrook and an ice-skating party in Poughkeepsie.

If none of that interests you, make a suggestion. That’s part of the program’s beauty — FFF encourages participation. Its website even has a section devoted to suggestions — after which Free Families Forward does all of the legwork to bring the requests to fruition. And it’s working! Kudos to Cole for pulling the whole project off so seamlessly.

And congratulations to her, also, for living the advice she has shared with others. She wrote the following on her blog (www.freefamiliesforward.org/samanthas-blog.html):

“Dreams really do come true! Do something! You can make a difference! You can change your life! You can improve your environment and community! You can create your purpose [instead of finding it!] You can change the lives of others!”

While such words of wisdom (and some might say blind optimism) may not apply across the board in all situations, it is indeed refreshing to find an individual to whom they do apply. Congratulations, Samantha Sloane Cole, and thank you for all you’ve done for Pine Plains and the rest of the Harlem Valley. We can’t wait to see what Free Families Forward has in store for 2013.