According to her web page, Courtney believes “that unconditional family love and support is the foundation for a person’s success in life” and she is “committed to reviving the value of family ties despite the chaos of modern society.”
A recent college graduate from the University of Michigan, Courtney lives in Hartford, Michigan with her family and promotes The Family Dinner Project and our resources in her work!
How did you learn about The Family Dinner Project?
Both of my parents are teachers and throughout my life I saw kids in their classrooms struggling. Some had bad grades, while other struggled with depression, or lacked confidence, or were running with the wrong crowd. I felt lucky because I had such a strong, supportive family behind me and I wanted to be able to share what it was that made our family unit so strong in order to help others. And when I wanted to find an organization to partner my platform with, a Google search brought me to The Family Dinner Project. I love the organization’s mission and all you had to offer.
Can you say more about your family life?
Our family does everything together! We always have. I have twin sisters who are three years younger and we’re lucky because we all enjoy each other’s company. Both my parents work in education; my mom is a special education teacher and my father is a vice principal at a technical school. My parents have high expectations and rules, but they also give us lots of freedom. Most importantly, I could always talk to my parents. Our connectedness is rooted in communication.
What do you talk about, and when?
Our dinner conversations can go on for two hours! We get talking and one thing leads to another and another. When I was very young, I remember the conversation revolving around future plans. Our mother would always talk about what colleges we should go to and ask what we hoped to become one day. Of course those plans changed as we got older since at one point I remember I wanted to be a Free Willy Trainer. But this idea of always planning for the future.
Then, when I was a teen, we started talking about more awkward topics such as boyfriends and parties. I remember my parents would say “You may go to these parties but we have taught you to not participate in those behaviors that will be occurring there…” But in that same sentence they said, “… but if you do, call us and we’ll come get you.” Now, in the work I’m doing going around and giving speeches on family unity, I really emphasize the value of conversation and openness such as this. It is what helps us maintain such close and trusting relationships with our parents.
What are you top three goals for working with families?
- To eat dinner together.
- To help instill morals and values.
- And to build open, trusting relationships.
And how are you reaching them?
I’m going around giving five or six speeches a week these days to different audiences. I do assemblies at elementary schools, present my speech to Rotary and Lions clubs, etc. In these presentations I promote The Family Dinner Project website and resources around food, fun and conversation, and encourage them to donate to help make a difference. Last fall I hosted a family fun day, and more recently I hosted a community dinner where we raised money for The Family Dinner Project.
I’ve also developed my own 30-day challenge, or ideas for 30 activities families can do together each month. Here are a few examples:
- Have a family show and tell session
- Discuss goals for the month over dinner
- Bake cookies together and take them to a family member or friend
- Have each family member say two things they love about one another
- Invite friends or family members over for dinner
What are your next plans?
I received a $1200 grant to host a family movie night this summer, so I’m really looking forward to that. I really just want to engage more families in the Southwest Michigan area, which is about a 40 miles radius.
How does your family feel about the work you are doing? Are they involved at all?
They absolutely love it! As teachers, my parents are thrilled to see the family dynamic change in our area because they then see those positive changes in their classrooms. And of course they are all there, boyfriends included, when it comes to all of my events. Their support is absolutely priceless to me and I doubt I would be able to pull off all of my events without their help.