Parents, too, have a home base on campus

Cal Parents dispenses info and TLC to families of undergraduate students
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

11 OCTOBER 00 | Only a year ago, Sarah Sanchez was desperate to pack up her bags and return home to Visalia. A new freshman, an only child and a rural Central Valley native plunked down in the heart of Berkeley, she was homesick in the expected ways - and more.

"I was very distraught," says her mother, Debbie, recalling Sarah's many tearful phone calls home. "'Mom, there are no cows! There are no grocery stores!'... (We were) unable to comfort her over the phone."

Her troubled mom called a parents' help line listed on a handout she'd received from Berkeley and reached the Sproul Hall office of a campus program called Cal Parents.

"She calmed me down," Sanchez says of her conversation that day with Cal Parents Director Diana Musto. "She shared her own experiences (as a Cal grad and mother of a new college student). She told me she would make sure that Sarah was OK."

Musto and colleague Julie Layne, Cal Parents associate director, did just that - offering personal TLC and guidance to help Sarah navigate her first semester, and support and friendship since. "I believe with all my heart that if Diana and Julie were not there, Sarah would not have stayed," Debbie says of the Cal Parents staffers her now-thriving sophomore calls "my Berkeley moms."

For seven years, Cal Parents has provided families like the Sanchezes' with support as big as Welcome Week interventions or as small as a phone number for the registrar.

A wealth of the information parents need is provided three times a year in the program's newsletter, Letter Home. Cal Parents also has produced "A Resource Guide for Parents," sent to incoming freshmen and new transfers for the first time this summer and available on the Web, at, as of last week.

The guide answers frequently asked questions: how to get mail to your son or daughter, or the dates for the annual Homecoming, Reunion and Family Weekend. And it highlights programs of interest, like Parents Fund for Cal, directed by Jenny Cutting, which has raised more than $500,000 from parents interested in strengthening the programs Berkeley is able to offer their sons and daughters.

Some questions are best answered by a person, and Cal Parents fields close to 1,500 phone calls and 500 e-mails from the families of Berkeley undergrads.

Often Musto and Layne are able to use their contacts on campus - in financial aid, the registrar's office, Letters and Science advising, the Tang Center - to help parents advise their students on ways to navigate the campus.

During Welcome Week, they're kept especially busy.

"Some parents are planners and have had (the student's) stuff arranged in their living room for two months," says Layne. Parents of this stripe, she says, have been known to request the number of cubic feet of space under their student's dorm-room bed. "Others toss everything into the car the night before and take off. Their questions reflect that."

But often what families need most is someone willing and able to hear their concerns - which in most cases, says Layne, boil down to a few essentials: are their children safe, are they getting enough food and sleep, are people being nice to them?

"First of all, we try to listen. 'I'm a mom, too,' I'll say. 'I remember when my son went away to college.'"

Cal Parents can be reached at calparents@ or 642-7147. Parents Fund for Cal can be reached at or 643-0415.


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