STEPS cards start conversations

By Vanessa Lewis

There’s a new buzz in town, happening in restaurants throughout Southington. Families are talking to each other, thanks to the Conversation Cards initiative by STEPS (Southington Town Wide Effort to Promote Success.) STEPS is an asset  based prevention coalition following 40 developmental assets believed to foster healthy development in teens, from anti-bulllying to healthy self esteem to the prevention of drugs and alcohol.
If, after all of STEPS efforts, 35 of these 40 assets are reached in Southington teens, then the Southington Youth Council has found success in its STEPS initiative, the group stated.
The conversation cards came about after Justine Griffin witnessed another family in a restaurant with their heads down, sullen and staring at their iphone and ipad screens, not talking to each other.
She said the kids seemed well behaved, but something still was missing. Justine knew how much she looked forward to sitting down with her own parents and talking about the day, so she wondered if other families could do it as well.
Other council members agreed , and ran with it.
Seventeen  restaurants throughout Southington agreed to participate, including Friendly’s, Moe’s, Pop’s Burgers, Family Pizza, Smokin’ with Chris, Wood n Tap, Outback, TD Homers, Steve’s Restaurant, El Sombrero, Pepper Pot, Fireplace, the Carousel, Spartan Pizza II, the Manor Inn and Renaldo’s.
Each deck has 58 cards and features questions to enhance family conversation, such as “What do you admire most about your mother or father?” and, “Name an aspect you like about yourself.”
Chris Conlon, owner of Smokin with Chris’s was one of the first to sign on.
Conlon was one of ten brothers and sisters and says they sat down every night to a home-cooked meal and conversation.
“A real family dinner seems a lost art in America. I’ve always been a firm believer of turning off the tv during dinner and talking to your children and parents, about school, friends and to air your grievances.”
Here, he says, because of the cards, i phones and I pods are put away and real family conversation is being made while waiting for the food to arrive.
He says STEPS is definitely on the right track and it’s up to the parents to continue the conversation.
Heather Medling, manager of Pop’s Burgers and Fries in Plantsville said she’s glad not as many people are watching the televisions now, while waiting for their food.
“I am noticing a difference in customers, especially teens. A lot more smiles.”
Owner Jonathan Salerno, said Pop’s loves to help out the community and frequently takes part in restaurant nights where 10 per cent of proceeds is given to local charities.
Steve and Mona Menard who own Steve’s Restaurant in Plantsville think the cards are a great idea that they hope more families will take advantage of. “Kids usually just play on the video games” Steve said. “It’s nice to see people off their cell phones, realizing they can still talk too. We’d like to see more places pick up on the trend. Customers seem much happier when they leave.”
Mona knows firsthand how hard it is to start a conversation with your kids at the dinner table.
As a restaurant owner, wife and parent as well, she said, “Parents and kids are thinking of different things. Kids are thinking about school and parents are thinking about laundry and dishes. My husband and I have been in the restaurant business for thirty five years and some people don’t even talk at all while they are eating.”
She considers the conversation cards ice breakers.
Eleventh grader and youth council member Natalie Nyerick says cards were chosen based on  which would create the most conversation between the family. There even is one wild card where you can make your own question.
What Natalie likes most about the initiative is a lot of the kids that know about the cards like to go to the restaurants that have the cards, because it’s more fun, she says.
Parents might initiate the conversation to promote more family time and more positive communication.
“When parents feel more comfortable with their kids, and kids feel more comfortable with their parents, parents might be able to initiate the tougher conversations, like about drugs and alcohol.”
It’s only been a couple of months, but the last survey that Youth Services did of seventh graders, ninth graders and eleventh graders found drug use to have lowered in town. Proof that STEPS is making progress.
Also, there’s no denying that on a whole the restaurant business is down 10-15 per cent, so the cards are only proving a good thing in the community all around.
Ninth grader and youth council member Trever Rogers says it took a couple of meetings to choose the questions, but the extra planning was worth it.
“We wanted to get families to talk. So, when we went through the cards we thought would work, then sorted them again and picked out the ones we really thought would work. We got an email from a mother whose family stayed at Mo’s for two hours, claims the cards helped her connect with her kids in ways she hadn’t in a long time.  After they finished eating they opened up the box and started reading the questions to her kids. She said she and her husband had a great time listening the responses from her kids.”
What’s next for the conversation card initiative?
“There have been so many requests for a home edition.” Justine says.  “We’re going to create a whole new set of questions. Even if parents took them home and didn’t use them they’d still have the desire in the back of their heads. Even if they use them once a month, or once a year, they will still have access to them.”
Trever says, “My mom, years ago, had a deck of cards for conversations. She brought them out at holidays and birthdays extended family, and they were great, because you don’t see your extended family for so long.”
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Connor McDonough, an eighth grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School and youth council member holds a deck of STEPS conversation cards at Renaldo's.

Connor McDonough, an eighth grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School and youth council member holds a deck of STEPS conversation cards at Renaldo’s.


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