Know When to Fold Them

Accepting the Award

“Know when to fold them…”

In his classic song, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers sang “You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” It is a great song and applicable to many situations… including the one I am writing about today.

As longtime readers of my blog will know, I never intended to be connected to the life of cadets of The Citadel after my son graduated in 2011. I passed along the leadership roles I held as the Georgia Citadel Parent Rep, and the Area Rep Coordinator for the Citadel Family Association before he graduated. What I did not anticipate were the many new parents who found my previous blog posts for the military blog site, Off the Base, who would then send emails and even call me to ask for advice. I certainly never expected to be connected to the school seven years after “my” graduation day.

I tell people I am basically lazy. After getting a few emails and calls post-graduation, I decided that since most of the early questions from parents are the same, it would be easier and less time consuming to just post the tips and information to my own blog. It then became apparent that a more interactive platform was needed for parents to ask questions and get answers, so I started that with the parents of the Class of 2016.

While my son was a cadet, I was a company rep volunteer and then area rep for the Citadel Family Association. During that time, Facebook groups were developed. In the early years those groups were helpful, but, unfortunately, also a source for rumors, bullying, and misinformation perpetrated by individuals who sadly harbored personal agendas.

Keeping in mind the harmful and insensitive interactions I saw happening in the groups that included parents of cadets of all classes, and knowing some basics in counseling and pastoral care, I developed the first parent group by class in 2012. The idea was simple, start a group for parents of students in the class of 2016 only and add a few of my trusted friends who were parents of recent graduates to offer guidance, support and advice.

The first year the group grew to over 350 members. It was a learning process. Not everyone was on board with the concept of straight information. Drama and/or rumors became a need for many. As the years progressed, rules and guidelines developed. Advice was tweaked and I built relationships with key staff on campus to ensure the information shared was accurate and current. Each year when the new packing list was published in the “Success Packet” I’d review it to make sure the new parents stayed with the school sanctioned list and not be conflicted by random advice given by parents of previous cadets. Today there are parent groups for the classes of 2016 to the current knob Class of 2022.

In 2014 my alma mater, Columbia Theological Seminary, gave me the “Pioneer in Ministry Award” for my ongoing work with cadet parents. I wrote about what I considered my unique call to serve in a blog post you can read HERE. From June 2014-2015 I was a chaplain resident at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. It was a rewarding and educational year. While I was extremely busy with my work there I was still maintaining the support groups for new parents. I also tried to let staff at The Citadel know there was a real need for the school to be more involved with proactive communication with parents. The Citadel Family Association is only for parents of current cadets and there was no place in the CFA for parents of graduates. I met with staff in The Citadel Foundation Office, then later met with the new provost at the time, Dr. Connie Book. A couple of years ago, Dr. Book brought Navy Capt. Taylor Skardon over to the Provost office where he became the parent liaison among other duties.

Each year in the parent groups leading up to matriculation day I offered a dinner invitation for first year parents who might want to get together in a casual environment after a stressful drop off matriculation morning.. We usually had a group of 40-50 meet at Tommy Condon’s restaurant. The summer the Class of 2020 was matriculating the numbers outgrew Condon’s. With the help of The Citadel Club of Charleston and The Citadel Foundation, we held a BBQ dinner at the Holliday Alumni Center. It was successful, over 230 people attended. After I planned this first dinner at the HAC, Capt. Skardon assumed the matriculation night dinner planning for the next two years.

I wrote Capt Skardon in the fall of 2016. I had authored a white paper on how and why the parent groups by class were formed. I explained why the groups have the rules they do and why only parents of graduates are in the group as advisors. Since Capt. Skardon was the new parent liaison, I offered to pass the groups along to him. He called a meeting with the staff liaison to the CFA and the CFA leadership. I attended the meeting fully expecting I would relinquish my leadership role of the groups. I was surprised when Capt. Skardon asked me to continue my volunteer work because the current staff did not have the required time. After that meeting, we developed a system of communication between the communication chair of the CFA, Capt. Skardon and me to disseminate accurate information to parents.

Here we are almost two years after that meeting. The groups have grown in size each year. There are over 980 members in the group for 2022 parents. There are more than 3,250 members in the four groups for current parents. The work is rewarding. Many wonderful connections and friendships have been made. The groups are so active that they caught the eye of the corporate office of Facebook in California. I was invited to attend the first ever 2017 Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago as one of 100 group admins who created successful Facebook groups and are building communities.

The goal of the groups has always been to provide a safe place for anxious parents to get accurate information. The groups are most active knob year. The activity picks up again second semester junior year leading up to senior year and ring weekend and graduation. To help with the volume of information that is shared, parents from within each group were added to help administer and moderate the groups. A private group was formed for the moderators. I continued to stay in close contact with Capt. Skardon to help provide accurate timely information to parents. I did tell Capt. Skardon that management of the groups had outdistanced my volunteer capacity and I’d either have to receive small monetary compensation or I’d have to move on.

Subsequently, a decision has been made for the school, through the Citadel Family Association volunteers, to begin moderating groups for the incoming parents of the class of 2023. I am the creator of the current groups and have promised that no staff would be added to them. I will continue to be a member in the groups I created, and the parent volunteers will take over the day-to-day administration of them. A staff person or two will be added to the private group for administrators so information can be shared from staff to the admin group then shared with parents in the 2019 – 2022 parent groups. Beginning with the class of 2023, the parent group will be maintained by the Citadel Family Association and their volunteers.

I like to think the groups have served the original purpose, to provide a safe space for new parents to find support and information. I look forward to following the cadet careers of the young men and women I’ve had the honor getting to know, some of whom have become my “adopted” sons and daughters. I’ll still be in the groups I started but as a silent member there to support the parent administrators and facilitate introductions between admins and staff.

So as the song goes, I’ll be walking away (but watching from a distance).

Go Bulldogs!

 

 

Advertisements

Atlanta Citadel Club: 2012 Annual Muster

For the past three years I served as the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group. As the chair, I was the liaison with the local alumni club and attended several of their gatherings.  The Atlanta Citadel Club is a great group of alumni who are very dedicated to the school and interested in nurturing current cadets as they progress through the school. The alumni members always make me feel welcome to the gatherings.

This past week’s annual Muster was no different. The event was held at a local restaurant. According to the alumni association website, “The first annual Citadel Alumni Muster was held in 1998. It was an Alumni Association initiative designed to facilitate an annual coming together of all alumni of the institution, with the purpose of recognizing those in the long gray line of the South Carolina Corps of Cadetswho have passed away during the preceding year.”

Michael Escoe, '73, leads the Annual Muster of the Atlanta Citadel Club, March 29, 2012.

I arrived on the early side to register and say hello before the formal program began. At the designated time the club president, Andy Frey, announced it was time to go outside for the Muster, led by David Robertson, ’90 playing the bagpipes. The gathering was held on a green in the center of a restaurant complex where they had a nice gazebo surrounded by a grassy area. Restaurants with outdoor seating surrounds the gazebo area. I can only guess that their patrons wondered what was going on as 30+ alumni and guests gathered in the space.

Michael Escoe, ’73, club Vice President, led the program. After he read the names of Deceased Alumni from Georgia from the past year, David Robertson played Amazing Grace on his bagpipes as the attendees observed a time of silent remembrance. I was struck by the contrast of the restaurant and traffic noises in the background and the beautiful sound of the bagpipes. The list of 15 names included graduates from the Class of 1941 to the Class of 2007. I read over their names again praying for their families and friends. Once the song was finished we recited the Cadet Prayer followed by The Alma Mater.

Michael Escoe reads the names of the Georgia alumni who passed in the last year. David Robertson, '90 waits to play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

The rest of the evening was a good-natured gathering of friends new and old. I ran into some recent graduates who know my son, and met many new friends. I am grateful for this group of graduates who helped me greatly the past several years in my quest to understand cadets who take “the road less traveled.” It is not the choice I made for my college experience, but I’ve gained a deep appreciation for the students who take on the challenge.

%d bloggers like this: