UVA Parents Are the Best. Here’s Why

September 7, 2023
Two U V A moms giving candy and high fives to students

A group of parents was on Grounds last spring for a new initiative, “Hoo Needs a Hug.” They will be back Oct. 13 with snacks and optional hugs. (Photo by Amy Scherer)

Parents of college-aged students know the drill.

Engaging with your child’s school starts when they are 2 or 3. If you wanted to be involved in your child’s schooling, your help was welcomed with open arms during the preschool, kindergarten and elementary school years.

Plan a party for the teacher? Yes, please.

Chaperone a field trip? Where do I sign up?

Once your kid reaches high school, the opportunities are far fewer and more free-form. Most moms and dads are spectators at musical, theatrical and athletic events and might work the occasional shift at the concession stand.

Then comes your student’s near-autonomy in college. It’s the trajectory most parents want for their child. But if the Facebook pages created by parents of University of Virginia students are any measure, the moms and dads who were so invested in their children’s lives have channeled their energies in a new direction: helping their fellow guardians find their way as the newest members of the Wahoo family.

Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do
Excellence Here Goes Everywhere, To Be Great and Good In All We Do

It’s almost like a teacher asked, “Who wants to be the classroom parent?” and everyone on the page raised their hands.

Where Can I Get Twin XL Bedding?

Before students moved to Grounds in August, questions and conversations on the parent Facebook groups revolved around things like where to buy the twin extra-long sheets that fit the beds in dorms and how to rent a fridge-and-microwave combo.

Soon, chatter moved to how to have birthday treats delivered. One mom even shared an idea for color-coded care packages. Her first one was all blue – blue Gatorade, Mini Oreos in blue packaging, blue ballpoint pens. Her next one will be all orange.

Parents also share recommendations for restaurants, ride services and storage facilities. Some UVA deans, faculty and staff members drop in from time to time to answer questions. Recently a parent had a query about UVA’s upcoming Family Weekend (it’s Nov. 3-5); an administrator for UVA Orientation and New Student Programs’ Facebook account dropped in with the answer.

Just this semester, another mom formed a UVA Parents Peloton group so folks can join rides from around the world.

Anecdotes abound about how helpful the UVA parent Facebook pages are.

Ephraim Zamzow-Danfoth of Richmond, Texas, has been a frequent flyer on the pages since his son Ismael enrolled at UVA in 2020. (Yes, that Ismael, the one who recently snagged the first Bodos receipt on his final first day of classes as an undergraduate student.)

Zamzow-Danfoth said his family had never stepped foot on Grounds before he moved Ismael in.

“Everything about UVA was foreign to us as a family,” he said. “The amazing academic reputation was well-known to us, but it was the intricacies and traditions that make UVA so incredibly special that were foreign. I remember in the early days reading comments about the Corner and thinking to myself, ‘What the heck is that?’”

UVA moms Mellony Spake Harris and Julie Ramirez Hawkins holding up a sign thay says Hoo needs a hug?

UVA moms Mellony Spake Harris and Julie Ramirez Hawkins were on hand for snacks and hugs last year. (Photo by Amy Scherer)

He said other parents were quick to offer answers and support. “One parent even messaged me privately and days later gave us a private walking FaceTime tour of Grounds,” he said. “The sense of community that existed within a simple Facebook group went far beyond anything I ever anticipated of a social media connection.”

One way he is paying it forward is by serving a home-cooked pot roast dinner to any interested students when he and his husband come for a visit later this month.

Rachel Kristy of Dumfries said she found the parent pages “from Dean J’s amazing admissions blog, and then the others from either posts on the class page or searching on Facebook.” Kristy was referring to Associate Dean of Admission Jeannine Lalonde’s blog, Notes from Peabody.

“Sometimes having a place to see that we all have some things in common as parents is really valuable,” Kristy said. “I loved interacting with other parents in different parts of the UVA community for advice and support as well as sharing the joy of seeing all of our kids grow through the UVA experience. My questions were very different from the questions my Hoo asked (or cared about), so I was glad to have a parent community that could answer my questions without me having to bug my kid,” Samuel Kristy, who graduated this spring.

A stalwart on the pages is a mom from Washington State. Kathy VanYe is a name that is probably familiar to every single parent using the resources.

A self-proclaimed “researcher by heart,” VanYe said before her son enrolled at UVA, she was not even on social media. That all changed when her research gene kicked in. Soon she was culling information from sites like Notes from Peabody and Housing & Residence Life. VanYe is responsible for the various guides to local businesses and resources. She’s remained active even though her son graduated a few years ago.

“Parents are always encouraged to have their students advocate for themselves, but sometimes come to the pages to be pointed in the right direction,” she said. “I really appreciate the community-helping-community aspect and I appreciate the deans, faculty and staff who are on the pages who will jump in and answer questions.”

Something extra snuggly has been born from all these parental partnerships. Last year a group formed “Hoo Needs a Hug.” Moms and dads set up shop on the South Lawn in April, clad in branded shirts, handing out study snacks and, of course, hugs. The team is coming back Oct. 13 and again April 11 to offer fellowship and support to all students.

Returning to Zamzow-Danfoth’s free pot roast dinner, he had this to say: “It’s a small thing we can do to repay the generosity that we’ve experienced. That said, I also know that, if by some crazy circumstance, I end up having 50 kids craving pot roast, it would only take me one little Facebook post asking for a hand, and I’d have plenty of other parents lined up with crockpots and bags full of groceries ready to share the love,” he effused. “It’s pretty darn cool!”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications