I signed up for the Be Strong Families (BSF) Parent Café training three years ago at the Cumberland County Partnership for Children. I was excited to get another resource to support the families and children I serve in Cumberland County, another tool for my toolbox. It was a train-the-trainer course, upon successful completion I would be able to host ... I had previously attended other trainings that used the World Café method where participants rotated to different tables for small group discussions on a particular topic so I had an idea of what to expect. Well, the BSF trainers also known as Café Hosts took the café training to another level!
Approximately 30 caregivers, parents, and community members attended the training. When we first entered the room it was set up as one would expect. There were rows of tables and chairs, a registration table, etc. At one point early in the training, the hosts asked us all to step out of the room. A few minutes later they invited us back in. To our surprise they had wonderfully transformed the large conference room into an intimate café experience! It was relaxed and inviting, filled with the ambiance café. Yet, every aspect of the training was intentionally designed to promote peer-to-peer learning, deep self-reflection and healing. From the beautifully decorated room to the structured agenda, the parent café was designed to transform us. The hosts helped us understand the process by allowing us to experience it as a parent.
Our Parent Café began with a welcome and introduction with the purpose of creating a sense of community. The hosts set the tone for the entire experience. One host was one of the parent leaders who developed the Parent Café and is now a lead trainer at BSF. It was obvious that she could relate to the challenges that many parents face and saw the value in working together. We were all instructed to take off every hat (title) we wore except the “parent” hat. Using the Parent Café Agreements cards, the hosts read the agreements aloud for us to commit to them. We all agreed to: speak from our own experiences, not to interrupt others, not judge anyone (negatively, not positively), not to provide advice and last but not least…maintain confidentiality!
After the Parent Café Agreements, the hosts introduced the theme. I believe our theme referenced parents as “Superheroes.” Parent Café themes provide a focus for the café and are usually strength-based. The themes are often carried through in the room decorations and even participants’ attire. Once the theme was announced, we proceeded to the ice-breaker.
The standard ice-breaker used by BSF Parent Cafés is the One-on-One Conversation. We each had to pair up with someone we didn’t know. The host provided a set of questions that each member of the pair had to answer. While one person spoke, the other person was instructed to listen without commenting. Only non-verbal cues were allowed to show that you were listening. The Café announced when it was time to switch places. After that activity, the whole group came back together for the debrief to share what we learned about one another (without telling our partner’s story) and what we learned about ourselves.
The major part of our training was devoted to the Café Conversations. We participated in three rounds of small group discussions based on topics agreed upon by our table partners with the guidance of a Table Host. BSF Parent Café uses a set of cards, Parent Café in a Box, that has discussion questions based the Strengthening Families Protective Factors: Parental Resilience, Social Connections, Knowledge of Parenting & child Development, Concrete Support in Times of Need, and Social & Emotional Competence of Children. An example of a Parental Resilience question from our “Superhero” theme was, “What drains your energy and what builds it back up?” There were no right or wrong answers to the questions. We were our own experts, in an emotionally and physically safe space, engaging in rich conversation without any judgement.
After we completed the three rounds of conversation, “harvested” what we had discussed by reporting back to the large group. We shared our “ah-ha” moments and the one word that described the training experience for us. One of the most memorable aspects of the experience the commitment I made to myself. The table hosts provided note cards for us to write down one thing we would commit to doing as a tangible reminder of our Parent Café experience. We self-addressed and sealed the envelopes and so the hosts could mail them to us in a few weeks. A few weeks later I received a card in the mail addressed to me in my handwriting. I opened it and was reminded that I had made a commitment to take more time for me. I think I’m doing a little better at that.
BSF is internationally known as an innovator in using the cafe process to help transform and heal communities, one family at a time. The Parent Café is more than just a parenting workshop; it’s a powerful resource that can transform lives and strengthen communities! Since my initial training, I have partnered with fellow trainers to host Parent Cafés both in person, and virtually. Once a parent attends a café, they can be trained to serve as a table host for future cafés. It’s a wonderful process for developing parent leaders and growing our team.
It has been said that the best way to understand how and why a Parent Café works is to experience one. Please join us!
Wanda Wesley works for Cumberland County Schools and serves on the SOAR (Strengths in Overcoming Adversity through Resiliency) Community Committee