As more in-person activities become possible, PJ Library excited to announce that Parent Connectors program will continue
Parent Connectors got creative to create bonds among young families during pandemic
By Carrie Fink • PJ Library Coordinator
Raising newborns and toddlers is challenging regardless of circumstance, but doing so during the pandemic has been especially difficult. So many of the normal activities for parents with kids this age – playgroups, Early Childhood Family Education classes, coffee meet-ups, etc. – had to be put on hold.
However, hundreds of Jewish families in the west metro this past year were still able to connect and participate in social and educational activities with each other thanks to the amazing work of the Parent Connectors in JFCS’ PJ Library program. The “double” great news is now families are able to engage in in-person activities more easily, and thanks to The Jacob Garber Endowment Fund, we have the funding to continue our Parent Connector program!
“My baby was born in June and while it was incredibly joyous, I was also very lonely and feeling like I’d be missing out on a lot of the normal things that other new parents get to experience, like ECFE, going to Tot Shabbat, and dressing her up for her first Purim carnival,” one parent said. “The events that (PJ Connectors) Terri and Haley planned since the fall have become the highlight of our week and make me feel that I am still involving my daughter in the Jewish community, and it’s been helpful getting to know other parents raising babies in the pandemic.”
PJ Library Minneapolis received an engagement grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation at the start of 2019 to expand our Shalom Baby opportunities using a Parent Connector model. We chose to focus our engagement on this demographic because we continuously heard from parents of babies and toddlers that they were seeking more opportunities in the Jewish community to build relationships with other young families.
The Parent Connectors’ role is to engage parents, build relationships with them, and help them build relationships amongst each other so parents feel more connected to the Jewish community. Pre-pandemic, the connectors were planning a variety of gatherings, like playdates at libraries, one-on-one park dates, and inviting families to meet them at PJ Library events.
Last March and April, the connectors personally reached out to every family on their list, totaling more than 250 parents, to check in on how they were doing. Many parents that had not previously engaged with the connectors responded to these check-ins with gratitude. We’re proud that this individualized attention has created a strong network of support for families during an incredibly challenging year.
The connectors have been exceptionally creative this past year in keeping families engaged with gatherings, such as:
- After-bedtime virtual happy hours
- Weekly Shabbat candle lightings on Zoom
- An educational series called Bringing Up Baby featuring topics that include feeding, sleep, and baby sign language
- A virtual version of our community baby shower where volunteers delivered swag bags and we had 35 families online dancing and singing with egg shakers
- Monthly circle time sessions and dance parties
The connectors have built relationships by sending regular emails, interacting in a private Facebook group, dropping off challah, and bringing over coffee to new parents – any of these are touchpoints that go a long way. After every gathering, they send individual emails to everyone that attended, which encourages families to continue participating.
We’ve noticed through this program that parents in this demographic say yes to everything – it’s clear that community building is needed to help combat isolation. Parents continue to come back at impressive rates and say that they feel part of something. We are so happy we will be continuing this program.
Our two Parent Connectors for this coming year will be Terri Lindenbaum, who is starting her second year in the role, and Jenny Glickstein, who started this month.
Terri and her husband, Elan, moved to Minneapolis in 2015 from Madison. She worked at the University of Minnesota as a landscape designer, then as a Gopher assistant rowing coach, and is now full-time at home with their kids, Noah (age 2) and Nethalie (age 7 months). Terri’s path to Judaism came later in life, and she loves to share the joys of Jewish life with families of all backgrounds raising Jewish children. Terri and her family live in south Minneapolis, where you can find them running or biking the many beautiful trails in the city.
Jenny is from Mendota Heights and is a pediatric occupational therapist at Kids Abilities in Shoreview. She moved across the river to Golden Valley when she met her husband, Jake. Jenny attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a HUGE Badger fan. She did marry a Gopher though, so there is a big rivalry in their household! Jenny and Jake love to meet new people and entertain. In the summers, you can find them doing anything outdoors, out on the lake or traveling.
Jenny and Jake welcomed their son, Levi, in March. Jenny is extremely excited to plan fun events and meet new growing families. Judaism has been a large part of her life and she has made lifelong connections because of it from attending camp, USY and Birthright. She knows how important it is to have a strong community to grow with for support and friendship. She is excited to meet you all soon!
PJ Library Minneapolis is a program of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis’ (JFCS). It is an international award-winning program designed to strengthen Jewish identity by sending Jewish-content books and music on a monthly basis to children from age 6 months through 12 years. PJ Library also hosts regular community events for families. Shalom Baby welcomes families of newborns and babies, up to age 2, to the Jewish community. For more information, click here.