FAN expands mission, minds in 30th year
Author Brené Brown speaks 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at New Trier High School's Northfield Campus. Brown is part of the 30th anniversary season of the Family Action Network.Author Brené Brown speaks 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at New Trier High School's Northfield Campus. Brown is part of the 30th anniversary season of the Family Action Network.Author Brené Brown speaks 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at New Trier High School's Northfield Campus. Brown is part of the 30th anniversary season of the Family Action Network.
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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:31PM
Just as children grow up and parents grow wiser, the Family Action Network, a New Trier Township-based institution for three decades, is changing, too.
Its very name has changed; swapping out “awareness” for “action” in its newly designed logo.
FAN’s mission remains clear. It researches issues of importance to families, educators and family support specialists, then hunts down speakers with things to say about those issues. It brings those speakers to large and small venues across New Trier Township and makes their talks free to everyone.
Tthe change is noteworthy, FAN co-chair Susan Rooney of Wilmette said last week. The 2012 program year kicked off Sept. 27 with talks by New Yorker author Paul Tough and OneGoal CEO Jeff Nelson.
An Oct. 10 address is scheduled at New Trier’s Northfield Campus by author Brené Brown.
“FAN is not a passive endeavor. It’s one that’s exceedingly vibrant and exciting. It asks us to do, to go beyond being aware,” Rooney said.
The 30th anniversary transformation may have been discussed over the past couple of years, but the evolution took time, co-chair Lonnie Stonitsch of Skokie said last month.
The network’s 1982 birth as the Parent Alliance for Drug and Alcohol Awareness, was born of fears about substance abuse. At the time it worked through loosely affiliated PTA members who put on local substance abuse education nights.
That had already changed by 1999, when PADAA renamed itself the Family Awareness Network of New Trier Township Schools.
The latest name change was logical, Rooney said, because FAN is now a broader-based, multi-school and social service agency network with connections from Glencoe to the Evanston border.
That is what, in part, makes FAN unlike other parent-based education networks, members and educators across the township repeatedly said.
“This is an organization that is not the creature of one school system,” long-time FAN board member Chuck Jameson of Wilmette said last week.
Winnetka resident Alison McNally, a FAN liaison for Faith Hope & Charity School said liaisons regularly leave meetings “energized about things that matter to all of us.”
When Rooney and Stonitsch held the first 2012 meeting, representatives from 13 community agencies jostled for space with 32 FAN representatives, and liaisons from almost 30 independent, parochial and public elementary, middle and high schools and district organizations.
Each liaison has multiple missions; to get the word of FAN speakers out to their constituencies, to find out what issues those groups want to hear about, and to bring ideas back to FAN – and to Stonitsch, who spends her own time quizzing township educators on what issues they want covered
“I like having a finger on the pulse of things, staying involved in issues of child psychology and education and lots more,” she said. “I’m wonky-geeky that way.”
Since she and Rooney became active, FAN presentations have grown from the five to six-speaker schedule of only a few years ago. Programs in 2011 attracted more than 5,200 people over an 11-speaker year, Stonitsch said; those talks were by nationally-ranked speakers, experts and specialists on issues of positive parenting, safety and mental health challenges, and more.
Teachers and administrators also benefit from the intellectual largesse, since FAN regularly develops programs in which invited speakers add special educator-focused discourses to their public talks.
“There’s one other group that does this kind of thing, and that’s TED. It’s TED for parents,” North Shore Academy administrator Doug Bolton said last week, referring to the virally-popular Internet “Ideas Worth Spreading” series.
He would get no argument from Barbara Fredrickson, a 2010 speaker and Kenan distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill psychology department. In a letter to other potential speakers, Fredrickson wrote, “If you’re familiar with TED talks, then that gives you a benchmark for the talent FAN seeks to recruit, although the time allotted to each speaker and set of ideas is more generous.”
Judy Trunsky is a FAN liaison for Avoca West School in Wilmette’s tiny School District 37. Her district couldn’t attract the likes of Tough, or Fredrickson, or many of the other speakers FAN brings in, she said.
She praised Stonitsch’s skill in finding speakers and convincing them to come to speak. Stonitsch, in turn, said she couldn’t do anything without “what I’ve got – a lot of high caliber, high ability people who want to be attached to what we’re doing.” Supporting entities include New Trier, The Book Stall in Winnetka, Quintessential New Trier magazine and others.
FAN has a small budget, less than $10,000 in allocations from schools and PTAs, plus significant financial support from North Shore Community Bank and Northbrook-based Compass Health and a small annual grant from Kenilworth Union Church, but it leverages that support and its partnerships to make the programs possible.
Church representative Marion Hanold said last week, “We’ve done a lot of programming over the 25 years but … things really came alive for us out in the greater North Shore community when we partnered with FAN.”
“I’ve never seen anything like FAN and what it does for the community,” Compass founder David Schreiber said last month. “The team is amazingly connected and passionate.”
“I’ve worked in a few districts and I’ve never seen anything like FAN anywhere else,” Wilmette Junior High School Principal Dave Palzet said last month.
“When you talk about the change from awareness to action in the name, I have to say I like it,” Bolton summed up. “It’s an organization that’s really all about action.”