First Link, Lasting Connection

As new parents at Deerfield, we all have questions. What does my daughter really need for her room? How do I ensure that my son will stay in contact with me without driving him crazy? What exactly is pre-season? No matter how large or small, the First Link Program strives to provide answers to these questions while establishing meaningful connections between Deerfield families.

Since its inception two years ago, First Link has filled a need in the community by pairing current parent volunteers with incoming families in order to help navigate the transition to a new school.  While much energy and detail has always been focused on the needs of new students, the transition for new parents had never been formally addressed.  A wide variety of issues can arise for parents, especially when a child is leaving the home for the first time. According to Pat Gimbel, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, “The program has absolutely filled a gap and really seems to have struck a chord.  It has been an extremely gratifying initiative for both sides.”

First Link volunteers have addressed questions ranging from transportation issues to homesickness to booking accommodations for parents’ weekend. They have discussed everything from handling academic pressure to the merits of snow boots in New England. Perhaps most importantly, the program provides new families with an immediate sense of community by making them feel welcome. New parent Nadine Alexandre describes her First Link connection this way,“The whole experience made us feel warm and fuzzy. It confirmed that sending my daughter to Deerfield was absolutely the right decision.”

In addition to providing a valuable resource for new families, the program allows Deerfield parents to contribute their time in a meaningful way. Ms. Alexandre states, “Deerfield has been such a blessing to my daughter and our family. I would be remiss not to give back in all the ways that I can.”  In its second year, the program elicited overwhelmingly strong support from current parents. “The response we received from our letter last spring was fantastic. We had enough volunteers signed up to cover all new families within one week”, says Penny Ashford, First Link Chair. Now entering its third year, the program only seems to be gaining momentum. Ashford reports that after sending this year’s request for volunteers on April 10th, she received responses from more than 100 families within 24 hours!

The primary challenge this past year, according to Pat Gimbel, was geography.  It is more difficult to match students from areas that are not well represented geographically, but Mrs. Gimbel takes other aspects into account when matching families, looking for common interests.  Consideration is given to families who need to fly, and the logistics involved. Additionally, Mrs. Gimbel is always looking for families who have an interest in hosting International students.  Many relationships formed through the program have transcended geographical differences.  Jill Hole, of Ormond Beach, Florida says, “We were assigned a family living in Russia last year and have kept in contact.  We really enjoyed making friends with them!

Although the degree of support desired by new parents varies, the simple act of making a new connection seems to be appreciated by all.  Now, as First Link launches its third year, it is clear that these connections extend well beyond initial welcoming phone calls.  Current parents have expressed appreciation to the program for linking them with families they may not have otherwise met. In some cases, they do not have students in the same grade, and are grateful to have met though First Link. Deerfield parents are eager to share their insight with newly admitted families, and often, lasting friendships are formed. Melissa Fleming of Bedford, NY describes her experience this way, “I would be delighted to again host a new family. We love our existing family and really feel we have made some lovely friends in them. They are from Columbia, and if we ever go I know they will take care of us, or one of our children, just as we have tried to welcome and take care of their daughter.”

Penny Ashford will be coordinating the program again this year, along with co-chair Missy DeCamp.   If you are interested in welcoming a new family to Deerfield this spring, please email pmashford@comcast.net or missy.decamp@comcast.net.

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