Opening the Door to Parents

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Start Empathy

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools To Teach What Matters competition.

Parents Forum can transform your family life with honest, respectful and caring communications. Where the Heart Listens opens the door.

About You

Organization: Parents Forum Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization

Organization Name

Parents Forum

Organization Website

Organization Country

United States, MA, Cambridge, Middlesex County

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, MA, Cambridge, Middlesex County

Is your organization a

Non‐profit / NGO / Citizen sector organization

Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with


How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Established (past the previous stages and has demonstrated success)

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

The Need: What problem are you trying to solve?

Strong social skills, based in empathy, underlie both individual and group achievement. Empathy towards others develops from one’s own emotional awareness. History shows that lack of empathy translates into violence. The annual cost of interpersonal violence in the U.S. is estimated at $300 billion (2004 World Health Report). The annual financial toll of young peoples’ depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and other drug abuse and behavioral problems in the U.S. is $247 billion (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine report 2009). School-based initiatives to teach children and young people empathy go only so far. The key role we propose for Parents Forum is to offer schools a powerful way to support parents in developing emotional awareness in themselves and their children.

The Solution: What is your solution? Be specific!

Parents Forum builds on long-established traditions of peer support, taking them from remedial to preventive. Attentive listening is the ‘magic’: workshop facilitators consciously, conscientiously show empathy to others in the group. As we do this, they acquire empathy.

Participants in Parents Forum workshops use a simple conversational formula, along with other program ‘tools of the trade,’ to increase their emotional awareness. Parents Forum’s unique role-play, How to Tell Somebody Something They’d Rather Not Hear, prompts participants to reflect on others’ feelings.

The program works on a deep level and across differences of age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, class and family situation. Schools and other agencies using the Parents Forum curriculum engage parents, teachers, staff and students in workshops and other activities. These activities strengthen individuals’ resilience, foster effective communication and help people manage conflicts more successfully.

The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

Rethinking school culture must involve a new kind of family engagement. Schools can best support parents in making positive changes at home by offering parenting education. Parents Forum gives parents simple tools that help them better understand themselves and their interactions with their children. At the core of our transformational approach is a role-play: How To Tell Somebody Something They’d Rather Not Hear.

In each workshop, a participant describes a conflict with a child. The volunteer facilitator takes the parent’s role in a conversation based on that conflict. In the role-play’s first round, the exchange is confrontational, frustrating and unproductive. In the second round, where the facilitator uses the Parents Forum conversational formula ‘I feel__ about__ because__’ the parent experiences the positive effect of empathetic communication both within himself or herself and on the child because he or she has taken the child’s role.

The frame for the role-play is our agenda of eight questions (see InfoSheet under ‘Media’). These open the door to pivotal discussions among parents, between parents and children and between parents and teachers or caregivers. Activities complementing the workshop include Charm School (a manners fair), Playroom Makeovers and a Book and Toy Exchange.

One 14-year veteran of Parents Forum wrote, “the information and tools we learned in Parents Forum to this day help us to be a better family.” Parents Forum goes beyond the typical project, program or learning experience to truly activate empathy within families and community-wide.

The Marketplace: Who are your peers and competitors? Identify others also working to address the needs you are and what differentiates you from them. What challenges could these players pose to your success or growth?

Parenting resources are available at either end of the economic ladder. At the low end, parents labeled ‘at risk’ are often mandated to attend programs as a child abuse prevention measure. Also targeting the poor (families in ‘under-resourced’ communities) are calls for investment in early learning and care. Both initiatives are valid. At the high end, among other parenting resources, parent coaching is available for a fee. Such services also clearly meet a need.

But all parents, at every rung of the socio-economic ladder, need information, guidance and support and want to help their children succeed. We see Parents Forum, steadfastly volunteer-led, as unique and we view most other entities in this marketplace as prospective partners and clients for our low-cost, lasting-impact program.

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.

Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Parents Forum can transform your family life with honest, respectful and caring communications. Where the Heart Listens opens the door.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

Three simple tools and eight powerful questions of Parents Forum help you understand family dynamics and communicate better every day.

Social Impact

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What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Parents Forum creates a congenial, confidential, structured environment where parents share their experiences. The curriculum, based on eight questions, is outlined in the program handbook Where the Heart Listens. The 2011 third edition is available in print, ebook and audio book through all standard book distribution channels.

Over the past 20 years of its existence the program has had a powerful impact on hundreds of participants, as community members including incarcerated fathers attest:
= The workshop gave me information I can use immediately, at home and everywhere!
= This is what’s missing in a lot of other parents’ programs.
= It offered new insights on things I ‘thought’ I knew.
= This program can be a solution. This program gives hope!

Each year the program serves over 100 parents and others in the Boston, MA area through workshops in libraries, schools, colleges and prison. Book sales increase Parents Forum’s reach, as do found Eve Sullivan’s radio interviews.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Over the next three years we expect Parents Forum to partner with three to five new schools (or districts) and/or community-based public health programs serving parents in high, medium and low-income communities. Our aim is to promote greater parent involvement in social and emotional learning as well as in addressing bullying and other serious behavioral problems including depression, suicide and substance abuse. Our goal is increase the number of parents we serve annually to at least 300 and to have licensed sites in at least three communities.

Spring 2012 we will videotape a public service announcement using our tagline ‘come share your strength’ to engage parents, as well as schools and agencies serving parents and children. We will distribute the PSA widely.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Without the capacity to generate more interest and respond to inquiries, we cannot grow. We need to elicit more inquiries from agencies and individuals about Parents Forum and we must be able to respond.

Prevention is a hard sell socially and personally. Communities readily ‘organize baby-rescue brigades down in the valley’ but fail to ‘walk up the mountain to see why babies fall into the river.’ Individuals know, and even say, that they want help managing their family lives, but put off seeking it.

Besides doing social marketing to address the above challenges, Parents Forum needs to have program materials in electronic format to make them readily available. We are seeking funding for this as well as for translating our book and workshop materials into Spanish and French.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Create advisory board, seed endowment fund and put program materials into electronic format

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone

Task 1

Invite six to ten community leaders to join Parents Forum advisory board asking each to contribute $1000.

Task 2

Post program materials securely online to enable licensed sites to run and evaluate their own Parents Forum programs.

Task 3

Formally launch advisory board in October 2012, Parents Forum 21st anniversary.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Engage a new (volunteer or paid) director to manage operations, evaluation and planning

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone

Task 1

Enlist one to three new community partners as licensees.

Task 2

Increase and diversify board and engage volunteers to take on tasks associated with strategic planning.

Task 3

Engage advisory board in above efforts and in selecting new director.

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

The program grew out of serious family crises when the founder's sons were teenagers. From the lessons she learned, based on greater emotional awareness, and with the help of Christine Bates and others, she created Parents Forum. Trained as a language teacher, she realized that she could teach others how to talk about feelings. In the closing chapter of the program handbook, Where the Heart Listens, she wrote:

“As our communities have become bigger, as our lives are too often invaded by news of violence if not directly by threat of violence or violence itself, and as commercialism encroaches further into our communities and our lives, we can maintain a positive vision. We can try to create loving and orderly homes. We can strive to be neighborly and tolerant. We can maintain an eagerness for new ideas…. I believe that we can and must do all of these things [and] I hope that Parents Forum will be a strong partner in the many personal, community and global efforts to do so.”


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Tell us about your partnerships

Our revenue comes in part from sales of our printed handbook Where the Heart Listens, produced by Lightning Source (print on demand) supplying Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Ingram. Our audiobook and prize-winning ebook are available through eBookIt. (Royalties, agreed to, have yet to be paid to the author, program founder Eve Sullivan.) Book sales and program license fees at this point provide only very modest income. However, Parents Forum’s strong brand identity, excellent name recognition and broad support in the wider community make our program ready to take to scale.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

Adequate funding will support:
- stronger program leadership (form advisory council, add to and diversify board)
- professional staff experienced in volunteer management, communications technologies and social media, and program evaluation
- donor engagement to create endowment
- social marketing in various media to parents and community agencies, and
- translation of Where the Heart Listens into languages other than English.
All efforts will focus on strengthening and supporting the central volunteer-led experience: face-to-face, feet-under-the-same-table parent peer support.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Parents Forum has many contacts through the National Parenting Education Network (, the International Federation for Parenting Education (, and CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation ( that we will gladly share. Program founder Eve Sullivan belongs to U.N. NGO Committees in New York and Vienna and will readily share these contacts.

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156 weeks ago Eve Sullivan updated this Competition Entry.
156 weeks ago Eve Sullivan updated this Competition Entry.
156 weeks ago Eve Sullivan updated this Competition Entry.
157 weeks ago Edwin Rutsch said: hi Even, can you email me directly, here's my email. about this Competition Entry. - read more >
157 weeks ago Eve Sullivan said: Bonjour Edwin, please let me know if there will be a time April5 or after when we can talk. Thank you. Eve about this Competition Entry. - read more >
158 weeks ago Edwin Rutsch said: hi Eve I'd like to invite you and any other applicants to to join in a recorded Skype based interview and panel discussion to talk ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
161 weeks ago Eve Sullivan updated this Competition Entry.
161 weeks ago Eve Sullivan submitted this idea.

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