Successful Families Say Secret Is in Hugging, Listening

The secret to a successful family life? Talking together, listening, laughing and plenty of hugging, said members of three families honored Saturday by the Family Service Assn. of Orange County.

The association's Spring Dinner benefit attracted 200 friends and supporters to Disneyland Hotel, where its new campaign, FOCAS--Families of Orange County Are Successful--was launched. To differentiate between the shapes and sizes of successful families, the association has defined six family categories--traditional, stepparent, single parent, adoptive, extended and childless. Representatives from each are being recognized by the association over the next two years.

Saluted at the dinner were Fullerton residents Donald and Jenny Boals, representing the traditional family. They arrived with Jenny's mother, their four children, a son-in-law and their children's dates.

Timothy and Lesly Bird of Yorba Linda, honored as the stepparents, were unable to bring their three children from Lesly's first marriage and their three adopted children, one of whom is severely disabled. But they did bring their parents--with Lesly's coming from Hawaii.

Robana Stainetti of San Clemente, a single mother of two children was honored as the single parent, but she was unable to attend.

The Boals and the Birds appeared surprised to find themselves at the center of an evening marked by festive balloons and music by the Bobby Noval Band. But they were eager to share the details of their home lives: "We're very supportive of each other," said Jenny Boals, a travel agent, of her family. "And we've backed off on pressure. We've had a lot of laughs."

Lesly Bird, who with her husband, Timothy, an electrician, has cared for more than 100 foster children in addition to her own six children over the past seven years, said she and her husband were just doing what they had always wanted to do: "Have a big family."

And they have succeeded, she believes, by "being fun-loving and accepting of each other. We're also quick to admit our faults. We don't put ourselves above our kids." She added that with all the demands of parenting, they never forget they are husband and wife. "We keep our marriage alive in our alone time," she said.

In a telephone interview, Robana Stainetti described her family as very close and said "hugging and serious listening" helped her raise her two children, one of whom has Down's syndrome.

Each family received a glass plaque from the association, a 32-year-old nonprofit agency that provides professional counseling for Orange County residents.

"All around us, there's so much emphasis on the negative," said association president A. Ron Johnson, originator of the FOCAS campaign concept. "We're reinforcing the positive--showing families that have made it, and not always in traditional ways."

To select the families, the association canvassed supporters and other local social service agencies and asked them to fill out nomination forms. From these, a volunteer committee selected winners by rating families in areas such as communication, mutual respect and ability to handle adversity.

Love is the families' common denominator, said Billie Bearman, chairman of the association board. "They all have demonstrated affection, made rules fairly and enforced them lovingly and have faced up to and worked out problems within the family."

Lesly Bird's advice for other families: "Enjoy each other. Life goes by fast."

Proceeds from the event were estimated at $20,000. Guests paid $50 per person to attend.

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