How to build an exceptional parent program that matters

Have you faced an uphill battle with your child and felt like you were in it alone? Gilda Ross did the day she took her preteen daughter to Old Navy. Credit card in hand, she was ready to pay for a bounty of new clothes. When the cashier said, “You look so much like your mother!” Ross’s daughter looked like she might die.

Upcoming events

Wednesday, Sept. 21

Dr. Temple Grandin, Different … Not Less

Temple Grandin may be the most famous person with autism. She is an advocate/animal rights activist and author

3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Glenbard East


Wednesday, Sept. 28

Devorah Heitner, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World: Raising Digital Natives

7 p.m., Glenbard West

Both are free;

A guidance counselor at the time, even Ross was unprepared for such a response. “Who is this ungrateful child next to me?” she thought. “Where did you come from and what do I do now?”

Ross discovered the book, Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall, by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D., and realized that she wasn’t alone. She decided to build a resource for parents, educators, students and community members to share the challenges of parenthood, and to come together in pursuit of mutual goals to inspire, empower and succeed.

The Glenbard Parent Series is now a nationally recognized program, with almost 50 events each year. GPS’s mission is to facilitate real-world parenting skills that enhance children’s social emotional development, encourage responsible decision-making and promote respect-based relationships, keeping children safe.

“The most important part of our series is the conversations that happen afterwards,” Ross says. “One parent said, ‘I have to go to seminars for my profession. How great to have these seminars that are free and near my home for my most important job: parenting.’”

Although GPS serves the third largest high school district in Illinois, parents of younger kids are encouraged to attend.

“Better to be engaged sooner,” says Margaret DeLaRosa, member of the school board and mom of three. “Parents share with parents, and help navigate the hard spots. There are always hard spots, and here are resources to help.”

GPS offers programs on athletics, mental health, financial aid, special education and even film screenings. The African-American Parent Committee hosts some events and others are offered in Spanish.

“I encourage all communities to develop parents programs. They can really make a difference,” Ross says. “Even if you don’t have resources to bring in speakers, you can find community members who are willing to come in for free.”

GPS often repeats its “Parents, Teens, Parties and the Law” program, which leverages local police, the State’s Attorney, school social workers and hospital treatment centers, and it doesn’t cost a penny. When police show pictures of drugs they found in the community, Peg Mannion, community relations coordinator at Glenbard Township High School, says parents sit up and take notice.

Molly Hoerester attended a GPS event with her son one night, then returned the next evening to hear Joy, Inc. author Richard Sheridan discuss creating healthier and happier environments at work and home. Some of the takeaways she was excited to try included visually planning tasks and choosing what not to do.

“In this crazy world of AP classes and travel sports, we don’t have time for as much stuff at home,” she says. “My biggest regret as a parent is not giving them life skills like doing chores.” Now Hoerester plans to allot 15-minute increments for her children to tackle their chosen tasks, pairing them up to keep them honest.

Authors and experts come from all over the country because GPS provides an engaged audience in a relaxed environment.

“Everybody wins when there’s a community resource like this,” Ross says.

Build your own program

GPS often gets asked how to replicate their program. Here are Gilda Ross’s tips for building exceptional parent programs: Make it free for attendees. GPS secures donations and corporate partnerships to cover costs.

Work with hotels to host speakers. Showcase sponsors who have underwritten programs.

Eliminate barriers, such as requiring registration, and provide babysitting, if possible.

Network with other programs and share costs, such as speaker and travel expenses.

Plan multiple events, for teachers and parents. Offer a breadth of topics and times that can appeal to many.

Choose approachable titles. “Heroin and Your Teen” won’t work, but “Helping Your Child Thrive” will. Get people in the door, then you can discuss additional issues.

Communicate everywhere—in school flyers, automated messages before events, local radio stations and social media.

Start small. Be patient. It takes time to grow.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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