‘Parent Cafés’ offer free classes for new parents at Cornell Cooperative Extension

Kerri Reda, a human development specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, is launching a parenting resource and community that she wishes she’d had when her children were young.

The initiative, called “The First Five Years: Improving the Health of Mothers and their Babies through Parent Nutrition and Education,” organizes “parent cafés” designed to provide young Suffolk County families with free research-backed advice and guidance on promoting the health of their babies and toddlers.

“Parent cafés are a wonderful opportunity for parents with young children to connect with others who have children the same age and are experiencing the same parenting issues, while meeting with educators who can share research-based information on raising and feeding their family,” Ms. Reda said. “All parents can use more tools and information when raising children, especially in today’s world. We want parents to consider CCE as a resource as their children grow.”

The program covers topics like coping with toilet learning and temper tantrums and offers nutritional information as well. Parent cafés are available in English and Spanish, in person at CCE headquarters at 423 Griffing Ave. in Riverhead, well as in Selden, Bay Shore, Bohemia and other locations across Suffolk. The program is also available virtually through Zoom. 

In-person cafés in Riverhead are scheduled for Thursdays, 10 a.m. to noon, from Sept. 28 to Nov. 16 . 

Virtual parent cafés in English will take place Wednesdays, 7 to 8 p.m., from Sept. 20 to Nov. 8. 

CCE strives to make each in-person class as welcoming as possible and help parents feel supported.

“When we do it in person, we have the room set up in a U-shape, rather than classroom-style, so it’s conducive to conversation,” she said.

During the sessions, parents are provided with coffee and snacks — and childcare. The youngsters are in a separate room with a childcare provider while the parents are with the educators, Ms. Reda said.

CCE was able to provide this resource thanks to a generous grant received in January from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, according to Ms. Reda.

The Mother Cabrini Foundation is the largest foundation focused exclusively on health care across New York State. It provides grants to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable New Yorkers, bolster health outcomes in diverse communities, eliminate barriers to care and bridge gaps in health services, according to a CCE press release. 

A small but dedicated CCE team — two parent educators and two to three nutrition educators — will lead the parent cafés. Senior nutritionist Christina Naldone said parent cafés are a great introduction to all the community resources and programs available through CCE.

“Cornell Cooperative Extension has a myriad of classes and by coming in, as a young parent, you enter into that community can grow throughout the years, your entire family’s life, and then beyond,” she said. “By bringing people in early on, we actually bring them into this family of many people that can bridge into like a great relationship going forward.” 

Ms. Reda added that CCE is looking to expand their programming to address parenting children over the age of 18. “Once children are ‘launched’ — whether that means they enter the workforce, military or go off to college — they are considered adults and for some parents this is a challenging time, as they do not have a clear sense of their new role,” Ms. Reda said.

Vanessa Lockel, executive director at CCE, said the innovative program provides an educational and holistic approach to parenting.

“Parents are primarily responsible for raising healthy, competent and responsible members of society,” Ms. Lockel said. “Yet many lack support and receive conflicting parenting advice. The parent café allows educators to build a space where parents can connect, enjoy breakfast and benefit from the latest in parenting education.”

For more information, parents can visit