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Aw, let it rain

A colorful army of donated rubber rain boots stood ready to keep dozens of tiny feet dry at the Family Nurturing Center Thursday morning.

In from the playground bounced a small group of children who attend the Medford center's therapeutic preschool.

Wide-eyed at the sight of the wellies, the 2- and 3-year-old kids checked out the designs. Rainbows and polka dots stood amid red race cars, blue elephants and pink kittens.

A little girl with strawberry blond hair was the first to try on a pair. Pulling up the legs on her purple pants, Dakota, 3, slipped on the green frog boots and grinned.

"Fits," she said.

The waterproof boots were donated by a group of well-wishing women, said Mary-Curtis Gramley, the center's executive director. The women asked to remain anonymous, she said, adding one of them told her the group is trying to learn more about local nonprofit organizations.

"They said they wanted to learn what the organizations needed, and then see what they could do to help," she said.

The center provides a relief nursery for children under 5 who are victims of child abuse or whose parents need to learn prevention or intervention techniques, Gramley said.

"Many of these children have had some pretty challenging, traumatic experiences," she said. "We can support their healing process. Stabilizing them emotionally is our main focus."

The mission of the Family Nurturing Center is to promote the healthy development of children, support parents and keep families together, said Gramley.

There were 4,283 reports of child abuse and neglect in Jackson County in 2007. Fifty-three percent of the victims were younger than 6. And 881 children were placed in foster care at least once during that year. The best statistic in Gramley's arsenal shows 98 percent of children enrolled in Relief Nursery services were able to safely remain within their families.

Since the Family Nurturing Center opened in May 2006, the center has helped 180 children. Current enrollment is 80 children, said Gramley.

Gramley is grateful for donation of rain boots, adding the Family Nurturing Center has only limited funding that comes from community grants, donations and a small stipend from the state.

"I love the polka-de-dotty ones," confessed Gramley.

Timmy, 3, pulled on a pair of blue elephant boots — and then did an impromptu belly flop on top of several carefully placed pairs. A pair of hesitating twins, Josiah and Jeremiah, eventually selected matching rainbow boots, then proudly marched up and down a little wooden bridge.

The recent storms have left plenty of puddles for tiny feet to tromp around in, especially now that they can be protected from getting chilly and wet.

"Let's go play in the puddles," said Nadajda Razi-Roberson, one of the center's teachers.

To learn more about the Family Nurturing Center, call 779-5242.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Dakota, 3, hasn't quite figured out the new boots she received at the Family Nurturing Center Thursday. Dozens of boots were given to children at the center by an anonymous group of women. - Bob Pennell