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Berkeleyan

Who are empty-nesters gonna call?
Cal Parents is the one-stop campus resource for concerned moms and dads

| 22 September 2004


Diana Musto (Deborah Stalford photo)
“It’s 11 o’clock on Saturday night. My son’s not in his room. Please help me find him!”

By the time Cal Parents director Diana Musto is able to return that call on Monday morning, the frenzied parent has usually made contact with the “missing” son or daughter. Such messages are not uncommon at the beginning of the fall semester, when parents of freshman students feel most anxious, says Musto. “They just need to be reassured that their student is doing what all the other freshman are doing — going to class and the library and, in their downtime, going out and making new friends.”

Musto, who singlehandedly staffs the Cal Parents helpline from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, has noticed that the questions she receives vary according to the academic calendar. In the fall, she says, parents want to know how they can ease the transition for their homesick students, many of whom have never been away from home longer than an overnight trip. Musto listens and empathizes, something that comes easy to her as the parent of two college-age students.

After a student leaves for college, parents often struggle with their own transition, says Musto: “I’ve had parents tell me they can’t walk by the student’s room without crying. As a parent, I know how that feels. I let them know it will get easier with time. In a way, it’s a grieving process for many families, especially if it’s your only child who has gone away.”

Knowing that the student is safe, healthy, and settling into new independence helps. “After all,” adds Musto, “we’re raising our kids so that they can go out in the world, stand on their own, and be successful and happy.”

Musto, who spends a lot of time on the phone with parents, sees herself and Cal Parents as a resource. Since the Cal Parents phone number is published in various orientation materials, many of the calls she receives are from parents who simply don’t know who else to contact. With contacts in admissions, financial aid, the registrar’s office, and undergraduate advising, among other units on campus, “I refer people as I need to,” Musto says. “I don’t know the answer to everything, but I can certainly find out who does.”

Cal Parents is a campus program with a relatively short history. Ten years ago, a group of parents started it as a grassroots organization under Public Affairs to convey information to parents of undergraduates. Because no money was allocated for the group, it began as a self-supporting, membership organization with an annual fee of $25 per family.

Those monies went toward publishing a newsletter that a committee of parents helped write and edit. Once the campus began funding the program in 2000, the newsletter evolved into its current iteration as Letter Home, a three-times-a-year publication (www.berkeley.edu/calparents/letterhome) that focuses on news, events, and information of interest to parents. In addition, Cal Parents developed A Resource Guide for Parents for families of incoming freshmen and junior-transfer students (also available online at www.berkeley.edu/calparents/guide). It addresses many parental questions, including how to find information about student life, finances, and academic and advising support services.

The founding parents of the program also instituted “Parents’ Morning,” the first official invitation to parents to visit the campus, and a precursor to the expanded “Parents’ Weekend” that now takes place during Homecoming.

Fifty parents currently volunteer on the program’s advisory board. Many work at high-school college fairs (in tandem with admissions advisers), meeting parents of prospective Cal students; they also assist at CalSO (Cal Student Orientation program) during the parent sessions, and help out on Move-In Day. “A parent always wants to talk to another parent,” says Musto. “That’s a really valuable service they’re providing.”

Advisory-board parents also speak to parents of prospective students at departmental outreach events. “These are parents who have been through training at Berkeley,” says Musto, “so they know which questions to answer and which to refer.” Because departments don’t always know where to turn for such a resource, Musto encourages staff and faculty to do what Berkeley parents already know to do: pick up the phone and give her a call.

For information about Cal Parents, visit www.berkeley.edu/calparents or call 642-7147.