In an effort to promote mental wellness for teens, Oak Park and River Forest High School is inviting parents to participate in a virtual event March 3, complete with presentations from six local medical professionals. The event – which will be held via Zoom from 6:30 to 9 p.m. – is folded into Parent University, a popular series that offers free workshops and resources for families. 

Since 2019, OPRF has tailored its Parent University programs to focus on mental health and wellness, providing area parents and guardians a platform to learn, discuss, reflect and ask questions, and this year’s event looks to embrace those same goals. OPRF partnered with five local groups – the Oak Park Township’s Positive Youth Development and Community Mental Health Board, NAMI Metro Suburban, Riveredge Hospital and River Forest Township – to curate the March 3 event.  

This Thursday, attendees will have the chance to attend three almost half-hour sessions, each with two guest speakers. Topics include emotional resilience, loneliness in children and teens, mental health resources for Black teens and more. 

Ginger Bencola, event organizer and OPRF’s prevention and wellness coordinator, told Wednesday Journal that some sessions at this year’s Parent University are new while others are mainstays, recurring topics that are still relevant to today’s families. 

Bencola said previous Parent Universities have included resources and support for families of color, especially Black families and students, and this year’s program is no different.  

“We could talk about how Black communities have different experiences with COVID, but I think even more so thinking about the racial unrest we’ve experienced in our country and continue to experience in our country, we know that’s impacting our students and our families right here in Oak Park and River Forest,” Bencola said. “We want to make sure we’re talking about that and not making that taboo and offering, again, our parents and families tools to navigate those really unique experiences.” 

Kris Johnson, a counselor at OPRF who helped organize the event, echoed Bencola and added another session vital to the Parent University program is the one that centers on self-care strategies for parents. 

 “Parenting is a hard job,” Johnson said. “In fact, if you’re doing it right, it’s probably going to be the hardest thing.” 

“We just felt like for parents to be in the best position to help their kids, they need to take care of themselves, too. It’s not just about getting things that will help you be a better parent to your kid. It’s putting in front of you [the] things that will just help you be a stronger, more capable, more competent person yourself,” she said. 

Parent University is a learning experience, and these presentations are meant to provide attendees hands-on, practical advice that they can use in their everyday lives, Bencola and Johnson said. 

Bencola and Johnson emphasized that this Thursday’s Parent University is for everyone, not just parents with children who attend OPRF. It’s a community event that’s easily accessible, and those interested can even register to join on the day of, Bencola said. 

“It doesn’t even have to be for people who have school-aged children. It can be people who are just interested in topics or have grandchildren,” Johnson added. “The nice thing about Zoom is that it’s easier to drop into something.” 

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