Leadership Chattanooga graduate Heiko Juerges is joining his Leadership Chattanooga team, educATE, in inviting families to sit down, eat and communicate in an effort to create well-behaved and focused students.
"In Germany it is absolutely common that the whole family comes together at 6 p.m. to eat together," said Juerges, who works for Düvel Corporation, a German company supplying computer support for Volkswagen of Chattanooga. "I think it is an important part of the day when they can learn about each other's life."
After moving to Chattanooga and meeting his fiancée from Rock Spring, Ga, he soon discovered that the family meal in America is often sacrificed to a family's chaotic work, sports and dining out schedule.
"According to various sources, performance in schools, crime rate and moral character is directly affected by the level of parental interest and involvement in the lives of their children," said educATE team member Blair Waddell. "Our goal is to challenge and equip parents to be active in their children's lives on a consistent basis by encouraging family meal times through a strategic marketing campaign and supplemental tools."
EducATE members partnered with Earth Fare and Chick-fil-A. The team attended the businesses' family nights and supplied tips and advice for stirring conversation at the table.
The team also created a Facebook page for the Family Meal Challenge where they will continue to encourage families by uploading tips and conversation starters. Examples include: "What animal would you be and why?" and "What was your last dream that you remember?"
"Eating together increases family communication," said Waddell, who encourages families to set aside all distractions such as cell phones during a meal. "It's something everyone can do no matter what their definition of a family is. It starts with one child."
Leadership Chattanooga participants like Waddell and Juerges spent 10 months learning different aspects of government and businesses as well as community and social issues in Chattanooga. Toward the end of the program, members were split into groups and asked to create a community project.
Their team, educATE, decided to focus on students by creating a Family Meal Challenge.
"I'm very happy I could be part of the program," Juerges said. "As a foreigner, I am glad I could attend and give my point of view."