A family reunion is a special moment in time where one generation passes down words of wisdom to their younger counterparts. It’s an opportunity to laugh, create memories, and celebrate your family’s history, culture, recent achievements and new additions.

“A lot of positive things happen as a result of family reunions,” said Ione Vargus, founder of the Family Reunion Institute of Temple University. “African Americans really look to the reunion to instill values, transmit a sense of identity and pass on history and traditions. Reunions helps bring the older and younger generations together.

“They’re able to see African-American role models within their own family instead of sports and entertainment figures,” she added. “Some families are even developing scholarships, so kids can go to college. It’s more than a family gathering. It’s about preserving your family history Through the reunion, families carry on a custom that is rooted in African-American tradition.”

Vargus began her professional work with families in 1954, and in 1986, she became interested in the subject of African-American family reunions.

At the time, Vargus says she thought that the extended family was dying out because people were moving apart and relocating, but she later discovered that African-American families were using the reunions to keep their family connected.

She would go on to visit hundreds of reunions from coast to coast and learned the traditions and strategies families used to come together year after year.

In 1990, she established the Family Reunion Institute of Temple University, the only organization of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to strengthening and preserving the extended family through family reunions. It promotes reunions as a way to enhance identity, self-esteem and family values.

“From 1990 to 2007, we held 17 conferences,” Vargus said. “During these conferences, we would have workshops on family reunions. The presenters were from people from Philadelphia as well as people from around the country.

“We became a resource for people who were having family reunions or who were interested in planning a family reunion for the first time,” she added. “While the Family Reunion Institute no longer holds conferences, the organization continues to provide information for people interested in planning family reunions. We still answer family reunion questions via our website.”

According to PHL Diversity (formerly the Multicultural Affairs Congress) executive director Gregory DeShields, 66% of family reunions take place during the summer months. Fifty-seven percent of family reunions will have attendees between 50 and 149.

“Philadelphia is a very popular city for family reunions,” DeShields said. “Some of the steps we will help with is to identify suitable hotels, locations and dates for their reunion. We direct them in ways that really help them stretch their dollars and have the best experience. We help promote their family reunion as well as connecting families with professionals who will help manage and coordinate the family reunion in Philadelphia.

“One of the more exciting things we provide is free things to do in Philadelphia,” he added. “We also provide them with transportation and resources to make sure that everyone who comes into this market is able to move around as one as opposed to taking individual cars.”

Reunions can last anywhere from one day to one week. Some families travel to different cities where other family members may reside. While other families may choose to travel to different locations such as theme parks, conference centers and cruise ships.

“In Philadelphia, Fairmount Park is a popular destination for family reunions because families can have picnics and barbecues,” DeShields said. “Other areas that are of interest to families is Center City, because that gives them the proximity to walk and shop.

“The Reading Terminal can serve as a great resource in terms of providing activities and entertainment for the family between different events,” he added. “Hotels are also popular destinations, but I think the idea of being in the central corridor provides them with access to retail and historical things all within walking distance. Our goal is to have every visitor who comes to Philadelphia have a memorable experience.”

chill@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5716

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