Parenting involves a plethora of challenges and worries, especially when children begin to reach adolescence. Jean Schumm, a mother of five children, knows all too well what it’s like to be faced with the struggles of raising teenagers. Her sons and daughters would sneak out of the house, make up stories and more. She waded through years of uncertainty with her children while trying to do the right thing on their behalf. Jean knew she needed to find solutions, and she wanted to help other parents cope with their own situations at home. Her passion to help moms and dads raise productive, healthy, safe children blossomed into her nonprofit organization Operation Parent in La Grange, Kentucky. Meet this week’s FACE of Louisville, Jean Schumm.
What does Operation Parent provide to parents?
We produce guidebooks, webinars and other material that give parents practical advice for surviving the challenges of raising a teenager or preteen in today’s world. We have guidebooks for elementary, middle school and high school; books in Spanish; and Christian-based books. We cover everything, including parenting basics; drugs, alcohol and other high-risk behaviors; 21st-century technology; and relationships. We start by providing information for parents of 4th graders and continue on up through their senior year. We began in Oldham County, spread to Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), and now we have material in 49 states.
What factors inspired you to start this organization?
We had five kids, and we felt completely overwhelmed as parents. It was born more out of fear and frustration. The kids were at the age where they were getting their driver’s licenses and getting invited to parties, and every weekend there were decisions being made that were really life-or-death decisions. It’s pretty hard to raise kids from 1st through 12th grade and not be touched by some of the things we address as an organization.
Tell us about the book that encouraged you to take that first step to begin Operation Parent.
Our oldest son was involved in a fight, and it just flipped our household upside down. When this happened, somebody sent me a book called A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence by Patricia Hersch. It’s the best book. It made me understand from a global perspective what’s going on with our youth in the country and that the underlying theme is kids are screaming for adult interaction, and we’re not hearing them or we’re interpreting it wrong. There’s another life that they’re leading, and parents are so easy to fool.
What happened after reading that book?
I realized that I’m one of those parents — I haven’t made any effort to understand the world teens are growing up in. I went to see the principal of South Oldham High School, told her what we’d been going through at home, and I said we’re probably not the only family who’s been caught off guard by these issues. It would be nice if parents of freshman could receive something that says, “Hey, here are some things you might deal with over the next four years.”
How do you get the word out to parents about the organization?
We started parenting classes at South Oldham High School, which expanded into Jefferson County. It was all very heartwarming when people found out they weren’t alone and that everyone was struggling with one issue or another. After that, we began doing community presentations. We go out to speak to Rotary Clubs, and we’re even doing lunch-and-learn meetings at businesses to reach working parents. The coolest thing is that we started webinars at a couple of years ago. We now have parents and administrators from all over the country participating.
What is the most challenging part of running Operation Parent, and what is the most rewarding?
The most challenging part is getting people’s attention and to understand how important prevention education is. It’s not a sexy subject. The most rewarding part is the chance to save a life every day, and working with my daughter. I love my staff. Everybody’s there because they’re a parent and they’ve been touched by these issues. There’s no hidden agenda.
What’s next for Operation Parent?
The future for us is to go digital. We want to get our material into an e-book platform so that parents can download the information immediately. Parents today expect to get everything on their phone.
We also just launched a new program called “21st Century Prevention Project.” It’s in Oldham County and with JCPS. It involves targeting 4th, 6th and 9th graders. The Oldham County Community Foundation raised enough money, so we’re able to put a handbook into the hands of the parents of 4th graders in the Oldham District to introduce Operation Parent to them.
We’re reinforcing the information in the handbook with videos, and we’re using celebrities to narrate them. The first one was on anxiety narrated by Karen Lawrence, mother of actress Jennifer Lawrence. The second one is on cyberbullying, which is narrated by former Miss America Heather French Henry, and the third one is on prescription drug misuse and is narrated by singer Demi Lovato’s mother, Dianna De La Garza.
What books can we find on your nightstand?
The book I’m reading right now is called Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. I also read Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn.
What are your favorite shops in Louisville?
We like to go to the Paddock Shops. Between birthday shopping and Christmas, that’s our home away from home. My favorite store is Ann Taylor Loft.
What do you do to relax?
I prefer to be with our kids and grandkids. I’m not a big ‘out there’ kind of person. We also have a place at Cumberland Lake we enjoy going to.
Do you have any favorite restaurants?
Gustavo’s Mexican Grill in Crestwood. It’s where a lot of Oldham County people like to hang out.
What advice do you cherish?
Embrace your role as a parent, and protect your children. Try not to be their friend — they have lots of friends, but they only have two parents.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Bacon, Goldfish crackers and laughter
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Jean! And hank you for to Gretchen Bell of Gretchen Bell Photography for these great images!
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