Parent & Family Coffee Socials

University student populations continue to grow and become more diverse. As such, so do the parent/family populations they "bring with them" to our campuses. Many span the globe, with some never being able to step foot on campus more than once or twice over the entirety of their student’s educational career. UCLA Parent & Family Programs (PFP) is no stranger to this challenge and, in response to a request from families to “build community among other Bruin parents,” produced Parent & Family Coffee Socials, which occur in a number of locations around the world on a single designated date. In 2009, the program began with only a handful of locations in Southern California; however  as word has spread and enthusiastic parents have stepped up to host a social in their area, the Parent & Family Coffee Socials program has grown exponentially each year. In 2017, UCLA Parents’ Council members and volunteers hosted a record-breaking 56 locations with 21 out-of-state and 9 international locations. 

This one-day event is a far-reaching, low-cost option for PFP staff looking to extend their inclusion and spread university pride to families far and wide. Here at UCLA, Coffee Socials are informal gatherings held at neighborhood coffee shops and hosted by a current parent or family member, with cost of food/beverage being covered by attendees themselves. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for parents to engage with one another on a regional level and foster connections and relationships, while also distributing information about the PFP office and other key campus resources families may need to best support their student. 

We emphasize securing enthusiastic volunteers (mostly represented by Parents’ Council members) who are willing and able to be “on the ground” in their local city and can identify a public venue (i.e. a Starbucks or other local coffee shop) to hold their social. Once a host secures their venue, the UCLA PFP staff begins marketing the event to families in the local area and communicates via email with the host to provide the following: (1) FAQ’s about the event, (2) a timeline leading up to and through the day of the event, (3) RSVP updates and guest lists. The host is also provided with a host packet, which includes a variety of materials and UCLA giveaways for guests, a thank you letter and gift for the host.

Launching your own Coffee Socials initiative might be just what your parent & family community needs to not only feel more connected to the university, but also to each other. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start small. Consider focusing on hosting 2-5 events in key cities/regions that have a dense population of families. You want quality over quantity–a solid foundation and positive word-of-mouth promotion will naturally expand the event in future years.
    • Consider partnering with alumni in a particular region in the event’s first year to “co-host” with a parent and bring their university experience to the conversation. This has been a more popular request from our out-of-state and overseas participants.
  • It may be useful to have staff representatives at the first few events/locations to gauge the resources and information needed by parents/families. This will influence the materials you compile for host packets.
  • Develop and clarify expectations and responsibilities for the host and communicate frequently. Many hosts informed us that they were initially hesitant to sign up because they were unsure what to expect. Ultimately, they found that they were well-prepared for the event due to our weekly communication in the final month leading to the event.
  • Encourage/require events take place in a public venue. This ensures the security of all participants and does not put pressure on the host to cover costs financially.
  • Stay organized! As our program has grown we have become exponentially savvier in the ways we collect and manage host and venue data. We now have a two-step process in which volunteers complete a form to indicate interest to host (and thus begin our communication with them about host responsibilities and timelines), and a form to confirm venue details (which can be easily downloaded into an excel document for tracking and mail-merge purposes).
    • We also request that all hosts agree to hold their location on the same day at the same time. This allows us to ensure there is no miscommunication to hosts or guests about event details, with the only variance then being the host name(s) and venue information.
  • Brand and market your event early and often! We begin recruiting for hosts at our Fall Move-In Weekend and Family Weekend, and typically hand out materials with the February event date on them as a save-the-date. 

Here's what past participants have to say:

In general the whole event was extraordinary!!!! Good conversation, excellent parents, and terrific experiences to share. Thank you UCLA for this extraordinary event. Looking forward to see you next year. Thanks again! 

It was a very nice experience. Would like to have events like this more often than just once a year. 

The biggest challenge for me was the distance from my home, but it was well worth the trouble. The food was great, the welcome from other parents much appreciated, and for some reason even the photo op was significant!



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