Closer to home
Becki Galardy,center, the program manager of Parent Programs, with student employees Maura Murphy and Katie Brown.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.
Going away to college can be an extremely confusing time for high school graduates. They suddenly need to move to a new town, make new friends and develop an entirely new comfort zone, after spending 18 years developing one at home. For the first time, perhaps, they’re faced with tasks such as doing laundry, paying bills, managing their time and money, and preparing meals all by themselves. It can be overwhelming.
Freshmen, however, are not the only ones who need to adapt to an entirely new world. Parents go through a similar transition.
For more than 80 years, the Moms Association and the Dads Association at the UI have connected parents to their children during their stay on campus. Until this summer, membership in the organizations was granted by paying dues. Now each parent, grandparent, guardian or interested party who has a student enrolled at the university is automatically a member of the Moms and Dads associations.
The boards of the organizations have sought alternative sources of funding and eliminated membership fees.
“We truly believe that when we accept and bring a student to our campus, we are welcoming an entire family into our Illini family,” said Becki Galardy, the program manager of Parent Programs. “We hope that by opening the membership to everyone, we will be able to reach each and every person who has an interest in the well-being of our students.”
Galardy said that the associations used to recruit parents during events on campus such as student registration and placement testing. However, since many university procedures are now conducted online, the associations have fewer opportunities to meet parents in person, and consequently membership began to suffer.
“We’re now representing all parents, not just those paying fees,” said Nan Rutledge of Bloomington, Ill., the president of the Moms Association.
Although the Moms and Dads associations are separate bodies, they work closely together to benefit students and their parents, with a wide range of projects and programs. In addition to Dads Weekend in fall and Moms Weekend in spring, there are a number of other events parents can participate in, including Move-In Day Picnic, Orange and Blue Days, conferences and raffles.
This year, the Moms and Dads associations’ parent volunteers are providing their support to new Illini parents at university events such as the Latino/a Family Visit Day. (See story, page 8.)
Parents are kept up to date with quarterly newsletters and biweekly updates by e-mail.
In the short term, the associations will rely on the university for some funding. Eventually, they hope to sustain themselves with donations from parents, according to George Kohut of Belleville, Ill., the president of the Dads Association.
“In July, the university agreed to fund the organizations with a yearly stipend of $50,000,” Kohut said. “During this school year, we hope to establish a long-term solution to the funding question.”
The Moms and Dads associations not only provide money to be awarded to students by means of scholarships and awards, but they also allocate money to various community organizations, with students’ interests at mind. For instance, the associations have purchased thermal imaging cameras for the Urbana Fire Department and contributed to the acquisition of a bomb-sniffing dog for the UI Police Department.
“Over the years, we’ve done a lot for student safety and health,” Rutledge said.
The associations’ Web site, uofiparentprograms.uiuc.edu, makes information easily accessible to parents. Message boards provide forums where parents can directly communicate and respond to one another about various questions and topics. Aside from using the site to communicate with each other, parents can also get an idea of what’s going on in students’ lives.
The Web site also has links to information about the associations’ volunteer events, resources, board meetings and other general topics for parents.
“We are a voice for parents of students at the UI,” Kohut said. “Parents can contact us and we can direct them to the proper departments and people who can answer their questions and I hope resolve their questions.”
In order to keep parents involved in their children’s lives year-round, the Moms Association encourages moms to plan their own support clubs in their communities by getting together with other local mothers of students at Illinois. According to Rutledge, Effingham County was the first to create a Moms Club, and moms in the club share their experiences as Illini parents with each other and plan social activities and road trips to campus.
Another goal of the associations is to improve diversity and represent the questions and needs of parents of all different ethnic backgrounds. They hope to achieve this by translating materials into Spanish and other languages and by sending information to cultural centers on campus to better communicate with all groups. The associations are also in the process of adding pages to the Web site that have been translated into Spanish.
Rutledge said she has learned first hand the benefits of addressing the diversity of the university’s culture through her experiences with Muzhgan Nazarova, a board member of the Moms Association who speaks English as a second language.
“Muzhgan can let me know when something might seem confusing and I can adjust what I have written for better understanding,” Rutledge said. “She was apologetic at first but I told her it was really helpful to me when she lets me know because there are other parents out there having the same difficulty.”
The UI’s two parent organizations have the distinction of being the first two such organizations in the U.S. The Dads Association was founded in 1922, and the Moms Association followed in 1923. The latter, founded as the Mothers Association, officially changed its name in August.