New ASU families get advice, resources through Direct Connect program

May 14, 2021

When Paulette Parker’s daughter Crystal was preparing to start her career at Arizona State University in 2020, it was a dream come true for the Oakland, California, native.

The stay-at-home foster mom of two young children, ages 3 and 6, and three older biological daughters, was excited that Crystal was about to become a Sun Devil as a first-generation college student. But at one point she wasn’t sure the dream would happen. Paulette Parker poses with her daughter, Crystal, an ASU student. Paulette Parker poses with her daughter Crystal, who recently completed her first year as an ASU Sun Devil. Photo courtesy of Paulette Parker. Download Full Image

“One day I was feeling confused, defeated and overwhelmed,” Parker said. “We were applying for scholarships, my family was helping with tuition, and my church gave me a sum of money, but it wasn't enough. We didn’t have a bank account or 401(k) that we could just tap into. Crystal was excelling academically, and I did not want her to stress over finances.”

Having attended ASU Family Orientation and Coffee Connection sessions via Zoom, Parker remembered hearing from ASU Family staff that "we are here to help." So she reached out and within a few days she was referred to a new ASU Family program called Direct Connect.

Through Direct Connectfamilies can connect one-on-one with ASU "family guides," volunteers who are family members of an ASU student, to ask questions about their experience at the university and get advice. 

That’s how Parker got to know ASU family guide Suzanne Allen, or “Coach Suzy” as Parker's family affectionately refers to her, through email and Zoom.

“I have learned so much in this relationship with Suzy,” Parker said. “She is committed, experienced and very smart. We were able to apply for grants and other ASU awards that we received additional funds from. Without Suzy I would not have known about these resources. Crystal's tuition has now been paid for the fall and spring semesters.”

Allen, a fellow Californian who lives in Santa Rosa with her husband, Tom, remembers well what it was like when their daughter Kyra was just starting college.

“To this day I remember what it was like to be a new, out-of-state parent,” Allen said. “I remember feeling lost, entering into this new world knowing nothing about it.”

With her Sun Devil now in graduate school at ASU working on her master’s degree in construction management and technology, and having been a volunteer for various ASU Family programs for five years, Allen jumped at the chance to be a Family Guide and to meet one-on-one with new families.  

ASU parent Suzanne Allen poses with her family members during Family Weekend 2019.

Suzanne Allen (second from right) poses with her family during an ASU Family Weekend event in 2019. Allen volunteers as an ASU Family Guide to help other Sun Devil family members.

“For new families, this whole world opens up and it can be very overwhelming. To have someone step in and welcome them, letting them know they are not alone and they have someone to help navigate, is priceless.”

During their Direct Connect conversation via Zoom, the two ASU family members covered a lot of ground, chatting about everything from financial aid to health services and tutoring resources, Allen said. They discussed the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which offers discounted tuition for students from western states for students in certain majors at the West, Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix campuses. 

Allen shared strategies on obtaining storage units for when it’s time to move out of the residence hall, referring Parker to a storage company they used in Tempe to store Kyra’s things instead of bringing them home each semester. They even talked about resources for car rentals and where to find the best pricing.

“I asked about her student, getting all excited about her accomplishments and her first year at ASU,” Allen said. “I told her, 'I’m here to help with whatever you need, or questions you have,' and it just took off from there. I feel like I’ve made a lifelong friend. This has been such a rewarding endeavor.”

Over the years, the Allen family has become an integral part of the ASU family fabric. Tom, who is part-owner of a caulking tool manufacturer, and Suzy, who works at Santa Rosa Junior College, are both five-year members of the ASU Family Leadership Council. They have been ASU Family Scholarship donors, assisted with two Sun Devil Send-Offs in San Francisco, and hosted an ASU Family Coffee Connection event this year. 

Sun Devils Send-Offs are meet-and-greet type events where incoming students and families connect virtually with representatives from the ASU Alumni chapter in their region before the school year begins. Similarly, ASU Family Coffee Connections enable family members to meet with other Sun Devil families via Zoom to share experiences and learn about resources.  

Back when Kyra was starting out as a first-year Barrett Honors student five years ago, the Allens had no intention of getting involved. But then they talked with Robin Okun Hengl, the executive director of parent engagement at ASU, and things changed.

“Tom and I hadn’t planned on volunteering for ASU, it wasn’t even on our radar,” Allen said. “But then we met Robin and she was so welcoming. She made the time to get to know us and by the end of our first meeting, we felt like we belonged. Being Sun Devil family members has given us our own ASU college experience, one filled with laughter, compassion and new friends.”

Allen said what began as networking for their own benefit, learning about the different departments and who to contact for their various needs, quickly turned into a community that welcomed them with open arms.

“It was no longer about ‘us’ but how we could help other parents and families, reaching out to them, saying ‘I know how it feels, we’re here for you.’”

Now that Kyra has graduated (magna cum laude) with a Bachelor of Science degree in interior design, and is now working on her master’s degree in graduate school at ASU, Allen is able to focus even more of her time helping other families as an ASU Family Guide through Direct Connect

Kyra Allen in ASU graduation garb shows off a pitchfork at Old Main

Kyra Allen graduated from ASU in 2020 with a degree in interior design and is currently working on her master’s degree from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

She’s able to offer emotional support and guidance based on her own experiences.

“I’m so grateful to have been paired with Paulette,” Allen said. “She has been wonderful to work with, and truly it’s been a gift meeting her. I feel like I’ve known her for years! I look forward to following her and Crystal’s journey and meeting them in person one day.”

As for Parker, she heartily recommends that new ASU families consider the Direct Connect program.

“I believe the variety of background and experience that the leaders with Direct Connect have can be matched up with any ASU Family in need. You have the chance to develop a partnership that can help you and your student enjoy your time at ASU. After talking with Suzy I no longer felt confused or overwhelmed, and had hope that my dream for Crystal to graduate from ASU was attainable.”

Visit ASU Family’s Direct Connect webpage to get started with this unique program.

Jim Brophy

Communications specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Expanding access to bereavement resources

Practical tools from award-winning ASU program made accessible online to parents of bereaved children

May 14, 2021

When a loved one dies, life changes dramatically and unexpectedly. It is a challenging time for anyone, however the death of a parent can be especially difficult for young children. It is estimated that by the age of 15, 1.5 million children have had one or more parents die, and 40,000 children experienced the death of a parent due to COVID-19 in the past year alone.  

To help parents support their grieving children, a group at Arizona State University’s REACH Institute led by professors Irwin Sandler and Sharlene Wolchik with funding from the New York Life Foundation have developed online “practical tools” for bereaving families — families who are dealing with loss. To help parents support their grieving children, a group at Arizona State University’s REACH Institute led by professors Irwin Sandler and Sharlene Wolchik, with funding from the New York Life Foundation, have developed online “practical tools” for bereaving families — families who are dealing with loss. Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

These tools promote parents’ ability to take care of their own well-being and enhance their children’s resilience following the death of their parent. The practical tools are derived from the most extensively evaluated program for bereaved families, the Family Bereavement Program. A randomized controlled trial of this 12-session group-based program found that it reduced prolonged, impairing grief and mental health problems of bereaved children and their parents up to 15 years after participation.

Sandler and Wolchik found that strengthening parenting was a key factor responsible for many of the long-term program benefits. The online practical tools now make some of the previous program’s key activities fully accessible to the public and to those who provide services to bereaved families.

Sandler’s research also highlights the critical role of caregivers in the bereaved child relationship. When children are recovering from the loss of a parent, an important factor in the success of their recovery is the role of a supportive caregiver.

“Because parents are dealing with their own grief while raising a child on their own, the program focuses on how parents can provide their children and themselves with the support they need following the death. One thing that was really impressive was how parents became more effective by using what we call resilient parenting,” Sandler said. “Resilient parenting involves not only promoting children’s resilience but also the parent’s own self-care."

The practical tools that are now available on the new website promote four key aspects of bereaved parenting. The foundation is self-care: parents’ ability to be kind to themselves during this time when they are grieving. The second tool teaches simple activities parents can use to help build stronger bonds with their children. The third involves basic communication tools to help children open up and share more. And the fourth focuses on tools to help parents respond in a way that helps children feel understood.

Each tool is designed to be brief, from 15 to 25 minutes, and provides both teaching and modeling of how to use the resource, as well as how to remove barriers from using the tool with their family. Each tool is accompanied by a webinar in which Sandler speaks with service providers about how they can use these tools in their work with bereaved families.

“Existing interventions give basic tips on how to support grieving the loss of a parent, but none of them are exceptionally practical and instruct how to do it in a real-world setting,” Sandler said. “The Family Bereavement Program has shown success by applying advanced teaching methods to show parents how to support their child while they grieve the loss of the other parent or caregiver.”

For access to these free online resources, visit the Resilient Parenting Website. Programs include: “Creating stronger family bonds," "Listening so your children will share more," "Responding to your children so they feel understood," and “Being kind to yourself."

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology