The circles have begun to take shape.
A key piece of the prevention-minded ParentsMatterToo initiative launched in Naperville last fall by KidsMatter, the gatherings of parents who have negotiated the teen years with their kids, and those just beginning the journey, are designed to benefit all who join.
Known as conversation circles, the specialized focus groups are designed to be part parenting class and part support group. Each will meet for three consecutive weeks, for 90 minutes at a time, and up to a dozen parents will be able to participate in each session. There is no charge to participate.
City Councilman Bob Fieseler, a KidsMatter board member, said in a media launch for ParentsMatterToo that the “pretty serious problem” of fatal heroin overdoses and suicides drew city officials’ attention several years ago. They had learned that heroin deaths were up sharply, mostly among older teens and young adults, happening at a pace of around once every two months. Suicides were being reported with about the same frequency.
“The suicide issue strikes everybody, it seems, so with a once-a-month occurrence, the council was struggling to know how to address (both issues),” Fieseler said. “Government is usually not the best at addressing this directly.”
It does, however, have financial resources at its disposal. Council members agreed to increase their social services funding by 20 percent, allocating $50,000 in new funds to help engage some of the local agencies that do know how to address drug abuse and suicide. KidsMatter was among those, winning a grant for $24,000 to launch the parent-empowering program.
Divided into age levels, some with focus on specific issues that have impacted kids, the circles are intended to spark discussion by providing a safe environment where parents can share experiences and ideas.
The circles include several for parents of adolescents and teens. The parent-to-parent model is promising for a group that can have trouble coming to terms with a struggling child.
Neuqua Valley High School has seen more heroin deaths than most, not long ago losing a half-dozen current and former students in the span of a single year. Principal Bob McBride said before the “seminal event” of senior Megan Miller’s overdose death in January 2012, more than a dozen substance-abuse workshops had been held at the school in the previous couple of years, none of them drawing even as many as two dozen participants.
“There’s a sense of isolation that high school parents especially feel, because oftentimes risk-taking behaviors are seen as moral issues, not public health issues,” McBride said. “So over and over again, we talk to parents who are unwilling to disclose, unwilling to reach out, unwilling to talk to other parents, especially unwilling to engage with school, because they see us as consequencers.”
IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter, said a recent survey found that two out of three kids report that their parents, not the media or other kids, exert the most powerful influence on their decisions regarding drug use. When that influence falls short, Wenhold said, parents often don’t know where to turn. So, with help from focus groups, KidsMatter looked into where moms and dads go for help.
“We found two things. They said the Internet, and they said other parents,” Wenhold said. “So actually, when they’re trying to find information, they don’t necessarily want to go into a social service agency, because they’re hoping against hope that their son or daughter is not doing drugs, and so they want to first test the waters.”
The ParentsMatterToo initiative is designed, she said, to empower parents with a safe environment for the sharing of experiences and ideas, to prepare them to “challenge their children’s choices” if need be.
The rollout, set to begin Monday, will offer these group-specific circles:
Parents of 10-12-year-olds: 7 p.m. Thursdays beginning April 17; Good Shepherd Church, 1310 Shepherd Drive, Naperville; facilitated by Beth Sack.
Parents of young children: Thursday mornings beginning in the fall; DuPage Children’s Museum, 301 N. Washington St., Naperville; facilitated by Mollie Willis.
Parents of preschoolers: Schedule to be determined; Primrose School, 2915 Reflection Drive, Naperville; facilitated by Zak and Rachelle Kates.
Parents of junior high school students: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 22; Washington Junior High Schools LRC, 201 N. Washington St., Naperville; facilitated by Julie Nelson-Kuna.
Parents of sexually assaulted children: 7 p.m. Mondays beginning April 14; Community Christian Church, 1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville.
Parents of teenagers: 7:30 p.m. Mondays beginning April 21; NaperBridge, 231 S. Washington St., Naperville; facilitated by Cindy Rowsey.
Single dads: 7 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 22; International Business Centre, 1717 N. Naper Blvd., Naperville; facilitated by Josh Peterson.
Parents of teens in recovery: 7:30 p.m. Mondays beginning April 21; Linden Oaks Outpatient Center, 1335 N. Mill St., Suite 200, Room 205, Naperville.
Parents of junior high and high school students: 7 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 15; Fry Family YMCA, 2120 95th St., Naperville; facilitated by Rosemarie Massengale.
Parents of elementary age kids: 9:30 a.m. Thursdays beginning April 17; 360 Youth Services, 1935 Brookdale Road, Naperville; facilitated by Angie Michalak.
Parents of athletes: 7 p.m. Thursdays beginning April 24; Hopvine Restaurant, 4030 Fox Valley Center, Aurora; facilitated by Mike Coffman.
Parents of athletes: 1 p.m. Tuesdays beginning April 29; Design & Promote, 1952 McDowell Road, Suite 100, Naperville; facilitated by Liz Repking.
Diane Overgard, project manager for ParentsMatterToo, said 15 people stepped up almost immediately to train as facilitators when the organization announced that the circles were being formed.
“The entire community is just rallying,” Overgard said. “I feel like we’ve opened the door to something that people are really passionate about.”
For more information or to register, visit www.parentsmattertoo.org/conversation-circles/.