Brenda Davis Koester grew up in Libertyville, Ill., and came to Champaign-Urbana as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. She and her husband, Tom, met at school and decided to raise their family here.
The couple has two children, a son, Jonathan, 23, and a daughter, Kelly, 21.
Koester has volunteered with a slew of local organizations, including Crisis Nursery, The Junior League of Champaign-Urbana and the PTA. Currently, she serves as the assistant director of the Family Resiliency Center at UIUC. Find out why we think she’s a Chambana Mom to Know!
The Family Resiliency Center is very much a hidden gem here in town, as I know from personal experience. Can you talk a little bit about the center, its mission and your role there?
The Family Resiliency Center (FRC) is dedicated to advancing knowledge and practices that strengthen families’ abilities to meet life’s challenges and thrive, and we accomplish this through multidisciplinary research, education, and public engagement. We’re housed in Doris Kelley Christopher Hall, which was made possible by a generous gift from Doris Christopher who founded The Pampered Chef, Ltd. As the center’s assistant director, my role is varied and multi-faceted.
I do everything from support research projects, supervise staff, direct policy work, assist with grant writing and budgeting, direct of media and communication efforts and coordinate our public engagement. The faculty, staff, and students that I get to work with are some of the best on campus so it makes coming to work every day a pleasure.
In what kind of ways can the CU community at large use the FRC as a resource?
One thing people frequently ask is if we offer programming for families. We’re not a direct service provider so the answer is not really, although the Autism Program which is based here at FRC, offers tremendous programming. The community does, however, participate in our research projects, public engagement and education activities. In fact, the two families who star in our Mealtime Minutes public-service announcements are real families from C-U! We’re filming two more PSAs this spring and will be looking for two families to feature.
Many of the programs at FRC are based on food, nutrition and family meals. Do you think a family meal is a lost art?
Research actually says that families eat together, on average, five to six times per week. I don’t think it’s a lost art. I do, however, think that parents are bombarded with media messages that can be confusing. What may have gotten lost is parents feeling empowered to safeguard family time.
I think there is a tremendous groundswell of interest in shared family meals. We’ve heard from families who want more tools and tips which is why we created the Mealtime Minutes program.
I think moms of little ones tend to beat ourselves up a lot, especially when it comes to mealtimes and work/life balance. As mom to two grown children, you have a lot of perspective that moms of younger kids do not. What advice would you give to those of us who are still in the thick of it?
My first piece of advice to parents with young kids is to be kind to yourself and don’t hold an impossibly high standard. Dinnertime will evolve and change over time as your kids get older, but the things that should remain constant is that you sit together, share food, and most of all, enjoy your time together. Focus on the fact that this is one daily opportunity that your whole family has to give each other undivided attention. That’s not a Herculean task, either, when you consider that the average family mealtime only lasts 18 minutes!
How does your parenthood inform your work?
In almost every way. I wish I could talk more about it but every time I try to answer this question I freeze with nostalgia. Parenting was hands down the most challenging and rewarding thing that I have ever done. I know how hard it can be — and also how magical it can be (sometime in the same day!). I want to do everything I can do to help families have the tools and opportunities that they need to succeed.
I want to be sure that policy makers understand the challenges that families face, and how they can make an impact. I want to be sure that organizations and agencies that work with families have access to information about best practices and current research findings.
We love the “Mealtime Minutes” program — what’s your favorite tip for moms and dads who are striving to have a family meal more than once every blue moon?
We love the Mealtime Minutes program, too, and are grateful for the financial support from The Pampered Chef, Ltd. that makes it possible. There’s a line in one of our Mealtime Minutes PSAs that says, “I felt like I needed super-nanny but, as it turns out, what I needed was a plan.”
When my kids were younger I used to write up a menu for the week and post it on the refrigerator. Coming home from work and then figuring out what was for dinner could sometimes push me over the edge. Creativity at 6 p.m. after a long day was not my strong suit, and having a pre-determined menu saved me from that added stress. The extra bonus was that everyone seemed to get their complaining out of their system about certain menu items before the week started!
What’s your favorite mealtime shortcut?
My favorite mealtime short-cut that I still use even though we’re empty nesters is to make two and freeze one for later.