Middle schooler wins placemat design contest encouraging family dinner conversations

Thanksgiving is an ideal time for families to gather around the dinner table and reconnect. But one local student thinks healthy dinnertime discourse should be a year-round effort — and she’s come up with a clever way to encourage it.

Ashley Lopez, who attends Doig Intermediate School in Garden Grove Unified, is also member of her school’s Club Live program, which is affiliated with OCDE. She recently won a competition established by the county Health Care Agency’s Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Team, or ADEPT, in partnership with five Orange County Friday Night Live chapters.

Ashley Lopez with school and club staff members

Ashley Lopez, center, shows her winning placemat design encouraging family dinner conversation. Also pictured, from left, are Doig Elementary Principal Louie Gomez, Health Care Agency staff member Jessica Carranza and Orange County Friday Night Live staff member Alejandra Vaca.

The task was to design a placemat that encourages open conversation, laughter, and “check-ins” with family members during dinner.

“I am happy to share the message of how important it is to talk to one another,” said Ashley, who was recognized on Oct. 25. “I know some families struggle to open up about what’s going on in their lives. I hope that they can use my design to help communicate.”

Ashley’s placemat, called “Dinner Table Talks,” displays questions and statements to get dinner conversations started. Prompts are separated into four “courses,” starting with Appetizers such as “How was your day?” and “How was work or school?”

The Main Course serves up a few more ways to connect, including asking others how they’re feeling. The final course, Desserts, encourages diners to exchange positive affirmations.

The placemat also makes it clear that smartphones are not on the menu.

Ashley’s winning entry was selected by staff from the Health Care Agency, which plans to print the design on placemats and magnets. Those will be distributed to the winning school and at community events.

Administered by OCDE and funded by ADEPT, the Orange County Friday Night Live Partnership promotes leadership, communication, team-building and problem-solving by encouraging young people to take the lead on alcohol and drug prevention campaigns at school and in their communities.

The program includes Friday Night Live chapters at the high school level, Club Live groups at the middle school level and Friday Night Live Kids in the upper elementary grades.

For more information, visit ocde.us/OCFNLP.