First Link Starts the Chain

By Tina Moghadam P’13; San Francisco,  CA

First Link, the new program where parents of current Deerfield students volunteer to reach out to families of incoming students, strives to connect parents both to one another and to the Deerfield community at large. First Link is for parents what the Green Key is for students: a source of information to help ensure a smooth transition to Deerfield. According to Pat Gimbel, Dean of Admissions, “It had become apparent that such a program would be enormously helpful, particularly for families who had not previously been a part of a boarding school community, or who were coming to Deerfield from outside the Northeast.” 

In its inaugural year, the program got off to a great start. “Families found First Link useful and beneficial,” says Mike Solberg, P ’12, who coordinated the program last year. “They appreciated the fact that First Link was a parent-led initiative, and that parents were not obligated but volunteers who had eagerly chosen to embrace new families with a warm welcome.”

First Link parents fielded a wide variety of questions. A parent from Los Angeles asked what type of clothing would be needed to survive a New England winter. One family wanted ideas on what to do for a child’s birthday. Some needed help using DANet.  Others wanted to know what stores were nearby. There were, of course, many questions about communication with their children, such as when would be the best times to call, or whether they were the only one whose child was not responding to calls, texts or emails!

First Link volunteers also provide information that incoming families might not think to ask, from the benefits of bed risers to getting reservations for Parents Fall Weekend.

Transportation issues are usually a new family’s main concern, particularly for those whose children are coming from across the country or for that matter another country altogether. For that reason, Pat Gimbel, who matches incoming families to their First Link, makes it a priority to pair families who are geographically close to one another.  Proximity allows linked families to coordinate their children’s flights and car pool to and from airports. One parent volunteer (who was driving his child to Deerfield from the mid-west) carted a new student’s belongings to school!

Geographical pairings also provide for the possibility of summer get-togethers. Two families in Alaska were “introduced” through the First Link program. It is, of course, not possible for all linked families to live in the same state, much less the same town. In some cases, families are assigned to one another because their children share the same interests, the idea being that the families will eventually have the opportunity to meet on the sidelines of a game or while watching a performance.  First Link volunteers also have the chance to meet “their” incoming families during move-in day or at one of the parent weekends.

Penny Ashford, who is coordinating this year’s First Link program, urges parents of current students to volunteer. “Last year we had approximately 95 volunteers to pair up with 150 incoming families,” says Ashford. “We would love to increase the number of volunteers to more closely reflect the number of families that are new to Deerfield.”  Volunteers who served last year have signed up again. Solberg noted that “people making the calls appreciate the ‘link’ as much as the incoming family. It is a way to feel like you are making a difference, providing a service to an incoming family and giving back to Deerfield.”

If you would be willing to help serve as a family’s First Link to the Deerfield community, please contact Penny Ashford at pmashford@comcast.net.

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