Reflections on my 1st year in Family Programs

Exactly a year ago, I took over the helm of Family Programming at my institution. Not even two weeks later we were sent home... and we haven’t returned to full in person operations since. My boxes remain unpacked under my desk after an entire year. These boxes are a metaphor for everything I had planned for my role and have yet to see come to fruition, or be able to unpack. 

At times, it has felt like I did right by Robert Frost and took the road less travelled by, seemingly filled with rocks and thorns, and no clear direction. But in line with Frost’s work, it has made all the difference. In the midst of it all, I’ve learned a billion things and I’m certain that’s just the beginning.

Here are a few of the things I learned, many with the help of AHEPPP colleagues:

  1. In the beginning with the switch to virtual events, I was stuck on the numbers in attendance I saw to measure our success in engagement. However, I was reminded that even when families were at events in person, in larger numbers, there was no way to control whether they were listening or decided to wander off and not return. Numbers can matter, but not always, so don’t beat yourself up about it.
  2. I thought that I needed to have all the answers because I didn’t want to let families feel lost or let down, but a lot of the time, especially in the age of COVID, I don’t/didn’t have them and that’s okay. I was and am still able to build trust and engage with families on a deeper level by being candid about the lack of information. They understand, even now, that we’re all in this together.
  3. You don’t have to create an entirely new book or reinvent the wheel, as they say. I thought that I had to come up with brand new, never before seen programming, family association structure, and content for my families. I would not have made it through this first year if not for the copious amounts of borrowing and sharing that exists in AHEPPP. With the appropriate modifications to meet the needs of my families, I was able to trust things would be great, because they had come from already great programs and great people who offered to share their insight.
  4. You have to give yourself grace. There is always a population that you might miss, a family who you feel like you could’ve helped more, or an event/programming that doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. That’s the reality. Redefine what success means, what it looks like in every situation, and know that even on your worst days and through sloppy progress, there’s still progress.

I’m a big proponent of mental wellness and self-care, and I always remind every one of you that I come in contact with to do the same. This past year alone has been a mountain that seemed insurmountable at best, but on every normal day that may come to fruition after this, treat yourself like you would the families you serve; with kindness, understanding, patience, and care. You deserve it. Thank you for the part you all played in my first year in Family Programming. Here’s to the next one!


Liz Vigil is the Family Outreach Specialist at New Mexico State University and is the Region 6 chair for AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education.

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