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HARTFORD – When Tiffany Murasso learned that Archbishop Henry J. Mansell was asking families to eat dinner together on Sept. 24, she decided to take it a step further.
Ms. Murasso is director of early childhood and family center programs with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford. Many of Catholic Charities’ family centers in Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury already have regular events called "Dinner and a Story," when families are invited to share a meal, hear an uplifting story, increase their faith and get to know each other better.
The Family Day Dinner that Archbishop Mansell encourages every family to observe fits nicely into the family center programs, Ms. Murasso said.
"Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children" is a program of the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University (www.CASAFamilyDay.org). Archbishop Mansell introduced the program to the archdiocese last year, when he noted in his August 2011 Transcript column that, according to CASA’s studies, "the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children."
During monthly or quarterly "Dinner and a Story" get-togethers at family centers, families participate in structured literacy activities, share a meal and hold "family meetings," when they discuss activities they just shared, Catholic Charities’ Web site says.
"And so, [on Family Day] we’ll incorporate that kind of theme into the discussions that we have, the books we read, and that kind of thing," said Ms. Murasso. "And then we’ll be giving the tips that the archdiocese is developing, tips for families: what to read, what kinds of questions you should ask, what kinds of conversations you should have with your kids at the dinner table, that type of thing."
Some of those discussion points include questions such as, "What are some of the fun memories of summer?" and "What’s the best and worst thing that happened today?" The discussions that follow are intended to strengthen the family bond, according to literature the archdiocese is sending to parishes.
At least seven family centers or early childhood development centers in Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven will take part in Family Day Dinner, Ms. Murasso said. All families are being invited, but they should make arrangements in advance by calling Catholic Charities at 1-888-405-1183.
Last year’s Family Day was a success with many participating families, including the Dunn family of Waterbury. Michael and Susan Dunn’s children, Trent and Rylie, both attended St. Mary Magdalen School in Oakville last year, where Thomas Maynard, principal, promoted the event. Trent, 13, now attends Sacred Heart High School in Waterbury; Rylie, 10, is in fifth grade at St. Mary Magdalen.
Mrs. Dunn said the family usually eats together anyway. "We do it a lot. We don’t do it all the time, but we try to do most meals that way," she said. The exception is when the children are involved in sports.
"I’ll tell you, when we don’t do it, the kids miss it," she said. "They say, ‘Oh, we didn’t do it last night.’ It’s a great family bonding time, when you hear the best stories from them. You’re going to get what really happened during the day. We love to do it."
Rylie said she remembers talking at last year’s dinner about the time the cat climbed a tree, an event that may seem insignificant, but one that engages all members of the family in conversation.
"It’s important to grab those moments, I think, because they pass so quickly," Mrs. Dunn said.
Paul and Kristin Mitnick’s three children also attend St. Mary Magdalen School. Mrs. Mitnick said each child – Meghan, 12; Julia, 10; and Myles, 6 – brought home a project they worked on at school.
Meghan said, "I made a card and we put a prayer on it."
Mrs. Mitnick added, "When it came time for dinner, she said the prayer, and it had to do with eating together and spending time with the family." During supper they talked about the importance of family get-togethers.
"It was good because they don’t think about it," said Mrs. Mitnick, who stressed that the family usually eats together anyway. "They just know that we’re all here, we have supper. When you point out certain things, sometimes it has a little bit more meaning. I think they subconsciously know the importance of eating dinners together and talking about your day and stuff like that, but it’s not something that we talk about like, ‘Okay, this is something that we’re going to do.’ It just happens to evolve that way."
Asked how eating together as a family strengthens the family bond, she said, "Oh, because we know that we’re here for each other, and that if we need it, we know that we’re listened to. If we have a problem, we can usually solve it or at least we know we’re supported and listened to, and your opinion is usually valued."
The archdiocese is sponsoring a Family Day 2013 poster contest, open to students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Each student may submit one entry. The Archdiocesan School Board will select 10 finalists, and a committee will select one winner, who will be presented with an iPod. The winning poster will be used in next year’s promotion. For details, consult the Office of Catholic Schools at (860) 242-4362.
For more information on Family Day in the archdiocese, consult your pastor or school administrator, or go to www.archdioceseofhartford.org.