The Institute’s major activity was to convene a recurring national symposium, the African American Family Reunion Conference, which began in 1988. In addition, the Institute has held conferences for children, entitled Family Reunions: The Next Generation, for 350 public school children. Using research by Dr. Vargus on the benefits and purposes of family reunions, the conference has become a vehicle for empowering and strengthening families. Workshops have gone beyond the focus of organizing a reunion picnic to include such broad based subjects as tracing one’s genealogy, family empowerment, family leadership, family secrets, family conflicts, healing family wounds, health and genetic counseling, family philanthropy, and reconnecting with “disenfranchised” family members. Keynote speakers have been well known and have contributed to the dialogue regarding responsibilities of families.
The Institute also provides speakers for family reunions, churches, and other groups. As an example of the wide range of interest, Institute volunteers have given presentations about African American family reunions to the Black Family Summit in South Carolina, the Maternal and Child Care Conference in Philadelphia, the National Association of Social Worker’s National Conference, the Multicultural Tourism Summit and Trade Show in New Orleans and the Second and Fourth National Black Philanthropy Conferences. The activities of the Institute have generated a great amount of media attention, resulting in print, broadcast and internet coverage. Many published articles featuring reunion information mention the Family Reunion Institute as a resource for further information.
The mission of the Family Reunion Institute is to build on the strengths of families by providing resources and support that encourage healthy extended family relationships, using reunions as the tool. It is the reunification of the African American family in particular, that inspires and propels our work, although our outreach embraces families of all races, cultures and ethnicities.
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The Family Reunion Institute of Temple University is the only organization of its kind in the United States with a mission to serve as a resource to families having reunions. In a program designed to strengthen and preserve the extended family, the Institute supports and enhances family reunions. We see the family reunion as a catalyst for carrying out critical extended family functions, such as providing a sense of belonging and concern, transmitting a sense of identity and direction, and strengthening family values.
The Family Reunion Institute emerged in 1990 because of many requests for information after two previous African American Family Reunion Conferences. The conference planning committee recognized from the response and requests for services and information, that it could begin to work with families outside of traditional family agency structures. However, it would need to have a more organized and permanent conceptual and contextual framework. Thus, the Institute was formally established.
The conference planning committee became the Family Reunion Institute Advisory Board, comprised of volunteers who helped guide the Institute in implementing its vision to strengthen and preserve the extended Black family. Board members were from diverse walks of life and knowledgeable about the many aspects of family reunions. Dr. Ione D. Vargus serves as the volunteer administrator.