First Link, Lasting Impressions
Almost five years ago when my eldest son, Noah, was about to enter the freshman class at Deerfield Academy, I felt lost and a bit confused since this was our first experience having a child leave home. For sure, I felt this way because I was sad that he was moving into this next phase of his life and that he wouldn’t be at home with the rest of his family while going to high school. However, it was actually more concrete as well; what clothing and footwear do I need to pack for him? What kinds of things does he need to gather for setting up his dorm room? Does he need to be at school early for pre-season? How will we communicate with him and with the school? What do I do if he seems homesick? (By the way, this was never an issue for him. Perhaps it was for us though!) I got through all this uncertainty by calling acquaintances for the answers but that time period was a bit overwhelming.
The following year, thanks to the Deerfield Parents Network and Mike Solberg P’12, the First Link program was born out of the needs of parents like me. For the past sixteen years, new students were assigned Green Keys (current Deerfield students who volunteer to welcome new students to the school, help them feel connected and answer any questions). Now new parents would have the same type of program just for them. Pam Safford, Deerfield’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, recently shared her appreciation for this great program exclaiming, “One of Deerfield’s hallmarks is its powerful community. The First Link program is yet another example of the school’s commitment to helping each and every family feel important and cared for. I’m so grateful to our many current parents who volunteer to reach out to our new families, whether just to welcome them or, indeed, to offer assistance throughout their transition.” Lynn Horowitch, P’16,’17, adds, “Deerfield provides a lot of great information for new families, but our First Link family filled in some blanks. Throughout the year, they were helpful in providing guidance about what to bring to school, traveling home at breaks, storing items over the summer, and more”.
Knowing how I had felt that past year when the First Link program did not exist, I immediately jumped on board as a volunteer when my second son, Adam, began his freshman year in 2010. Suddenly, I was the “expert”, fielding similar questions that only the year before I had worried about as a new parent. Lee Jonsson P’16 expressed similar thoughts about wanting to be a First Link volunteer in her daughter’s sophomore year when she said, “Being a First Link volunteer was extremely gratifying, not only by being able to help ease the transition to boarding school as I had been helped the year before, but giving all of us a deeper sense of the Deerfield community and what makes it so special.”
As a volunteer that first year, I hosted a summer get-together for the two families to which I was assigned, where all of our families got a chance to get to know one another a bit. For Parents Weekends and some sporting events, the three sets of parents and our children would often dine together on campus and still do so to this day. Lee Jonsson adds, “One of the families I was matched up with lived in Southern California. Although I live in Northern California, we had a lot in common, and I was able to answer questions about Deerfield and what life was like with a child at boarding school. In a serendipitous set of circumstances, our two families met in Southern California later that summer, and it was delightful.”
When geography is a factor as it often is for our international families, the First Link program seeks to pair families up with common interests or similar backgrounds. Thankfully, the internet helps connect families who are unable to physically meet before the start of school. This coming year, current parent Younghee Wait P’17, from New York City, has offered to link up with several families from Asia. Having grown up in Korea, being fluent in Korean, Japanese and Mandarin, and also having lived with her husband in Hong Kong, Tokyo and London, Younghee understands what it is like for both the students and their families when they choose to come to the States for their education. She hopes to put some of these families at ease and welcome them to the Deerfield community when she says, “We so much appreciate what the Deerfield Parents Network does for new families and are happy to share that generous hospitality extended to us with others, especially to the international families who may have some additional concerns.”
Now entering its fourth year, the First Link program only continues to flourish thanks to the dedicated work of past chair Penny Ashford P’14, current chair Missy DeCamp P’13,’15 and one hundred seventy volunteer parents. Chances are if you are a current parent reading this article, you might have benefitted from being paired up with a First Link volunteer parent when your son or daughter first started at Deerfield. If you would like to volunteer, please get in touch with Missy DeCamp at firstname.lastname@example.org, as she is now organizing the First Link program for next year, along with Pam Safford, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, and First Link co-chairs Serena Bowman, Jennifer Andrews, Hilary McInerney and me.
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