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Parents receive support courtesy of UMass dinner program

Jessica Jazz Dautruche, an undergraduate communications major at the University of Massachusetts, thought she may have had to drop out of school when she found out she was pregnant.

Dautruche said,  “When I became pregnant many people expected me to drop out, but I heard about the Dinner on Us through the Amherst Family Center, and Joanne Levenson [one of the directors of the program] said she could get me an internship.”

Dautruche views the “Dinner on Us” program as a way to support young single mothers like her: “It helps to be around people going through the exact same thing as me, and it is a support system.”

Every week undergraduate student parents, graduate student parents and parents from the Amherst community gather for a free dinner in the Student Union, located on the UMass campus, to find ways of more effective parenting.

These events are run by the “Dinner on Us” program offered by the Office of Family Resources. According to Joanne Levenson, child-care director, “Dinner on Us” is a support program for campus families with young children.”

The events, said Levenson, occur in three parts beginning with a free dinner in the Earthfoods café for the families, followed by play time in the Cape Cod Lounge for the children while the parents attend a workshop on parenting.

The program has different guest speakers every week, who are usually local experts, such as professors of psychology and specialists on child care.

“This program is unique to UMass,” said Levenson. “No other campus has a program like it.”

This Monday Oct. 26 workshop was slotted for “Positive Parenting.” The speaker a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator could not attend due to a family emergency. However Suzanne Kelly, a program director with a Masters in education who is currently being trained as a facilitator for new mothers, adjusted on the fly and filled in as the guest speaker.

She opened the workshop up with a discussion. “What do you seek to learn from this workshop?” Michelle Dunch, who has a two and half year old son, said she hopes to learn new “techniques” on positive parenting.

One example that came up was how to put a child in a car seat. Some parents offered strategies that have worked, Erin Doherty, a frequent attendee of “Dinner on Us” spoke of  how she turned getting into the car seat into a competition between her and her children. Others mentioned that giving positive reinforcement when the child cooperates.

Kelly then cut into the discussion to emphasize a point, writing on the white board the following statement, “Positive parenting is the use of specific positive statements about behavior you want and long term characteristics you are looking for [as a parent].”

“It was hard to find a schedule to work around being a mother,” said Dautruche.  “People think they cannot do it. But programs such as this allowed me be a mother while still attending school.”

Dautruche felt it was imperative to spread the information about the program to other new mothers: “It is important for the University to tell people about this program,”

“She is amazing,” said Levenson. “She had her baby the eighteenth and came back the next Monday.”

“There is no person to talk to if you are pregnant on campus, which is part of the reason why when students get pregnant they drop out,” Dautruche said.

There are no current studies or statistics available recording the number of student parents or students who drop out due to their pregnancies or children, but both Dautruche and Levenson had said this would be a topic worth looking into.

UMass undergraduates also volunteer in the programs offered by “Dinner on Us.” The America Reads Program provides some students who specialize in teaching early literacy. The goal of the program is to promote literacy in young children.

The program provides work study to those students involved in the program, though a student does not have to be a part of The America Reads Program to volunteer. Residents of the Amherst community were also welcome to “Dinner on Us.” With one resident having said, “This is our third time here, the first two times weren’t that interesting, but we think this week’s topic should be more worthwhile.”

With the holidays approaching, the program will also be running a special event for Halloween. Titled, “Little Folks Halloween,” the first part of the event starts on Oct. 31 from 10:00am-10:45am in the Student Union Crafts Center. Parents and other Caregivers will accompany the children while the children create Halloween themed artwork.

From 11a.m.-12 p.m. in the Cape Cod Lounge parents and their children can attend a concert and sing along with local musician Roger Tincknell.

Bobby Hitt can be reached at rhitt@student.umass.edu.

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