Penn group provides network of support for campus parents

Raising a child is a massive 18-year undertaking filled with life’s greatest prides and joys, and most terrifying worries and fears. Parenting is no easy task, whether rearing toddlers or teenagers, and can be made even more difficult without guidance, advice, or support from others.

Penn faculty, staff, and students who have children have a support system in place right here on campus. The Parents at Penn group has recently taken on new life, offering friendly discussion, advice, and resources for all members of the University community.

Jessica Mertz, associate director of the Penn Women’s Center, and Shaina Adams-El Guabli, associate director of the Graduate Student Center, have taken charge of the group’s revival.

Parents at Penn

Mertz explains that there used to be two groups focused on parenting on campus: New Parents at Penn and the Working Parents Association. But a couple of years ago, the people who had spearheaded those groups’ activities were looking to pass on the reins to new leaders as their own children grew up.

“That’s when I got more formally involved and, along with one of the previous leaders, decided it would make sense to merge the two groups,” says Mertz.

Throughout the past two years, Parents at Penn has partnered with other campus groups, such as the Family Resource Center, Human Resources, and the Division of Public Safety, to offer subsidized CPR trainings, a workshop on work-life balance, and other activities of interest to parents. The organization also has an active online listserve and has recently started holding monthly lunchtime discussions.

“We’re here to support the needs of pregnant and parenting members of the Penn community,” Mertz says. “We provide a space where we can offer support, whether it’s about parenting or about navigating Penn policies on parental leave. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone who has gone through it.”

The group hopes to be a social outlet as well, planning weekend potluck dinners and barbecues where Penn employees and students can bring their kids and get to know one another.

“We’re also hearing people express a real desire to do something around advocacy,” Adams-El Guabli says, “whether that’s about lactation spaces, lack of affordable or accessible daycare in the area, or maternity leave policies.”

Mertz and Adams-El Guabli, who, coincidentally, are both expecting babies this summer, say anyone who identifies as a member of the Penn community can get involved, including students, alumni, or spouses of faculty and staff.

“Everyone is welcome,” Adams-El Guabli says. “We want to build relationships and see how the group evolves.”

The group’s next lunchtime discussion is planned for Tuesday, May 13, at noon in the Penn Women’s Center and is open to the University community.

To sign up for the Parents at Penn listserve, contact Jessica Mertz at

Originally published on May 8, 2014