Rx for missing your college student: Care-package parties
Parents bond with each other and fill the void
NASHVILLE – She’s performed at the Grammys and the MTV Video Music Awards, and she’s co-starred in a movie with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon (the animated “Sing!”). But make no mistake: Tori Kelly plans to still be very, very starstruck when she comes to Nashville next week.
The R&B/pop singer is performing at the 2018 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards on Tuesday.
She’ll perform alongside gospel giant Kirk Franklin, who produced and co-wrote her new gospel album, “Hiding Place.” Kelly grew up singing in the church, and her original plan was to record just one gospel song to include on her sophomore album. That soon changed after she and Franklin realized how well they worked together — in fact, Kelly is the first person to ever share songwriting credits with him.
Ahead of her trip to Nashville, Kelly, 25, told us about how her faith became “real,” the Christian singers she loved as a kid, and what it means to bring gospel music to a mainstream stage.
“My faith, for me, has been such a huge part of my life since I was a kid,” Kelly says. “It’s so embedded into who I am. My faith kind of makes its way out, I think, in all of my music . ... I guess this is a more Christian music solo star Tauren Wells leads the pack of artist nominees at the 2018 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, along with Zach Williams, Cory Asbury, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and TobyMac. Performers at the show include Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin, Lauren Daigle, For King & Country, Natalie Grant, Newsboys, Rascal Flatts, Tauren Wells and Zach Williams. The ceremony will be taped Tuesday and air on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on Oct. 21.
Eighteen years after Diana Sutera Mow gained an instant family with the arrival of her twins, her Southern California home “became an instant empty nest” when they flew across the country to begin college last year.
Gone were the everyday sounds of her children, Alex and Rachael, laughing, running around the house and telling her about their day. Gone too were the familiar voices of her son’s lacrosse teammates and her daughter’s friends.
“We went from not just having our children but several others in our home at any given time to just my husband and I and the dogs,” said Mow, of Poway, California. “The silence is deafening.”
To help fill the void and to stay in touch with fellow parents, Mow began participating in a growing trend among those with an empty or emptying nest: the college care package party.
At these parties, parents, usually mothers, share a glass of wine or a meal and then pack a box of goodies to send to their college students. The moms laugh, hug and bond as they swap updates about their children, support each other through new struggles, and sometimes shed a tear among friends who get it.
Mow, who hosted four parties during her kids’ freshman year, opened her home for her fifth on Aug. 31, at the start of her twins’ sophomore year.
“It gives us an excuse to get together and be a support system, and see that we’re not alone in this journey and everything is normal,” Mow said.
The parties work like this: If the RSVPs show that 12 boxes will be made, each parent brings 12 of an identical item, one for each box. Parties often follow a festive theme, like Halloween or Valentine’s Day, or boxes can be filled with snacks and stress balls for finals. Some groups of moms wear college Tshirts for extra fun.
Crafty moms decorate the box flaps with colored or holiday-themed paper or
explicit way of coming out and saying, ‘This is a huge part of who I am.’ I love God. I love Jesus, and these songs are how I get through things. That’s even why I named it ‘Hiding Place,’ because these songs, they’re where I feel safe.
“I think I’ve definitely grown a lot since I was that little girl running around in church singing songs about Jesus. It definitely became more real for me. There was a time, probably around high school, where it became more my own. I developed more of a one-on-one relationship with Jesus instead of it being a thing that my parents believed, or some church get-together where that was just where you went because all the other kids went. It became, ‘This is real life. This is the God who saved me. I need him.’ It wasn’t just some fun thing anymore. It was a lifeline.”
She was Franklin’s first co-writer
“I’ve done quite a few co-writes over the years, and working with him was no different. He seemed like a seasoned pro when it came to collaborating. I think it’s because even though he’s never actually co-written with anyone, that just shows you how insanely talented he is, because in his whole career, he’s just done everything by himself.
“Getting in the studio with him, he was a little bit nervous to write with me, but he didn’t need to be, at all,” she said with a laugh. “I think it was just because me, coming from the pop world and him in the gospel world, neither of us had ever done anything like that before. I think both of us were a little bit like, ‘OK, how is this gonna work?’ And the very first session that we had was (with the song) ‘Never Alone.’ We wrote it together, and I think it turned out pretty good.”
‘I’m sure I’ll be fangirling’
“That’ll be my first time going (to the Doves) and my first time being surrounded by that many artists in the genre, sharing the same faith. I always grew up hearing about the Dove Awards, but I’ve never been a part (of it). I’m super excited, and I’m sure I’ll be fangirling the whole time over everyone.
“Kirk was definitely one of (my favorite artists growing up). Mary Mary was a big influence. Yolanda Adams. I loved Crystal Lewis growing up. She was probably the first singer I really remember gravitating towards. She also got to work with Kirk and they did stuff on the Dove Awards too, which is kind of crazy. I was really into Rachael Lampa and Stacie Orrico as I got a little older. The whole time, listening to all of those artists, I was also listening to Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Jackson and Earth Wind & Fire. Both of my parents, they would just have really good, soulful music on all the time.”
Bringing gospel to the mainstream
“It’s an honor, really. I’m just glad that people get to be exposed to this type of music and hear my heart. I wasn’t sure how people were gonna react. I just said, ‘I’m gonna do this because I love it, and I want to put this out.’ I didn’t have any sort of specific expectations or anything like that. So to see that people are getting into it, and that it’s even touching their lives, that’s really the biggest encouragement and the best compliment, really. It’s like it’s not even me. I want people to be able to see past me and really hear the message of the music.”
Tori Kelly will perform Tuesday at the 2018 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in Nashville.
Moms make care packages for their children away at college at the Baltimore home of Mia Walsh in September. Care package parties are a great way for parents to bond.
Diana Sutera Mow, front row left, and other moms show care packages they made at a party held by Mow in Poway, Calif., in August. The moms also wore college T-shirts.
Tori Kelly says she named her new gospel album “Hiding Place” because “these songs, they’re where I feel safe.” ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES