In February 2018, Hanover Cares Coalition hosted an inaugural event called Cafe Conversations, an event designed for middle school youth and their parents to encourage communication about tough subjects relative to substance use, social media, bullying, mental health, and just how hard it is to be a teen in today’s society.
Hanover Cares Coalition serves a population of 100,000 in the entire county of Hanover and Town of Ashland, Virginia. Hanover residents are mostly middle class working families, and the county has a low poverty rate. The community is considered suburban and is situated about 20 miles north of Virginia’s capital and major city, Richmond, Virginia. Hanover County has one public school system and the county is considered a great place to raise children and one of the top 100 places to live.
“We’re proud of this event because it is challenging to figure out not only how to engage parents, but to get them to participate in events after the school or work day, and the fact that we were able to bring youth and parents together to educate them,” said Octavia Marsh, Executive Director at Hanover Cares Coalition. “At the event, we started with youth and parents in the same room for a presentation offering some statistics and information supporting why there is a need for prevention. Then, each went into breakout sessions.”
Youth learned some brain education and its impact on decision making relative to these high-risk behaviors and issues by engaging in interactive activities like jeopardy and fun communication using emoji icons, as well as taking The Five Love Languages assessment. Parents were offered a session on The Five Love Languages, where they could take the supporting assessment to learn their love language, and then how to communicate with their children based on their love language. After the breakouts, youth and parents reconnected to discuss one another’s love language. Then, each family was provided a journal and a conversation jar, filled with conversation starters to strengthen and encourage open communication. After ample time to practice this communication, families were offered closing suggestions noting the conversation jars and journals were provided to take home and put on the dinner table to continue these challenging conversations daily, or as often as possible, either verbally or through writing.
“Our schools actually often seek the coalition to help with events to engage families. A few of our school principals felt like they were seeing some of these varying issues and consulted the PTA to possibly organize an event to bring families together and spend quality time while educating,” said Marsh. “The coalition partnered with the school PTA, and with support of the school principal, to coordinate this event. We had about 25 families (middle school student + parents) register, which was great, especially for a first-time event. We conducted short evaluations at the end of the event from both students and parents individually, and the feedback was incredible, especially from the parents.”
According to Marsh, parents felt like they needed this information because they don’t always know what issues are trending or how to even talk to their children about these issues. Many comments also suggested they wanted more time, especially with the conversation piece, realizing just how important talking to your children is. This supports the message the coalition continues driving home that prevention starts in the home, and also supports the coalition’s media campaign, Just Say Something. The event was widely talked about across the county after, and the county council of PTAs President has already approached the coalition with a request to host another Cafe Conversations event at a different school in the county in March 2019.
“The coalition couldn’t be more pleased and proud of these families for participating and bringing awareness to the coalition’s efforts of raising substance-free youth.”