‘R Family Fall Festival’ – A New Tradition

‘R Family Fall Festival’ – A New Tradition

Young families celebrate Rutgers University-New Brunswick Homecoming on lawn of the president’s home

fall festival
The Barchis are working with the Rutgers University Alumni Association to identify and invite alumni with children 12 years and younger to the festival, now in its second year.
Photo: Fred Stucker

'We took a break from our normal tailgating and came here. I’ll do this every year the president does this. This is great.'
 
– Marc Pellegrino, Class of 1999

Matthew Waters’ connection with Rutgers runs deep.

He met his wife, Lisa Miceli Waters (DC ’93, CLAW ’00), at Rutgers. They have four degrees from Rutgers between them. They’ve been going to football games since 1994 soon after Waters’ father retired as a high school football coach. But he was a Rutgers football fan long before he attended the school. 

“I joke with people, ‘If you stand still too long, I’ll paint you red,’” said Matthew Waters (CC’94, RBS’96).

The Waters, of Aberdeen, are season ticket holders and attend the games with several members of their extended family.

“During the Texas Bowl my wife went into labor with my daughter and held off going to the hospital so we could finish watching the game and see Rutgers finally win its first bowl,” he said. “It was our second one, so we knew what we were doing. We weren’t as nervous.”

On Saturday, the Waters brought that child, Erica, now 8, and their first-born, AJ, 11, to Rutgers University-New Brunswick Homecoming. Before the game, they tailgated on the lawn of the president’s home at the “R Family Fall Festival,” hosted by President Robert Barchi and his wife, Francis Barchi, for alumni with young children. The festival is designed to provide a safe and alcohol-free environment for families attending the game.

The idea came from Francis Barchi in 2012 as she and her husband were walking to the game from their residence as they do every home game.

“People were partying and being as rowdy as you would expect during adult tailgates, and it occurred to me that couples with children were not feeling entirely comfortable,” Francis Barchi recalled. “This way they can come, they can sit at a picnic table, and their kids can run around. There are a lot of people watching them. It’s in an enclosed area. It’s safe. There’s healthy food. It helps us encourage young families to enjoy Rutgers much earlier after they graduate.”

The festival, in its second year, featured pony rides, carnival games, mini golf, two bouncy houses, and a petting zoo with baby pigs and a cow. New this year was a hayride with President Barchi driving the tractor.

The Barchis worked with the Rutgers University Alumni Association to identify and invite alumni with children 12 years and younger. About 215 people attended Saturday’s festival.

“Rutgers hasn’t done anything like this before. It’s a chance for young families to bring their kids and to get them integrated,” President Barchi said.

Marc Pellegrino (CC ’99), of Somerville, holding his 20-month-old daughter, Sara, said he is grateful for the event.

“This is a great alternative to hanging out in the parking lot. The kids are having a wonderful time,” said Pellegrino, who came with his wife, Kelly, their son, Michael, and other daughter, Samantha.

“I love this place,” said 8-year-old Michael Pellegrino. “I never saw slides that were actually inside the bouncy houses.” Michael also had fun in the photo booth, where he posed for several shots in different hats. “I love the mustaches they have,” which, he said, made him look “dramatic, like a man."

The R Family Fall Festival allows the association to involve a younger demographic of alumni, said Donna Thornton, vice president of alumni relations, annual giving and communications.

kids at petting zoo
The festival featured pony rides, carnival games, mini golf, two bouncy houses, and a petting zoo with baby pigs and a cow.
Photo: Fred Stucker
“Engaging young families is a challenge for us. They’re busy. They have lots of things that are going on, so we need to make sure that the events appeal to them and that they can bring their children,” Thornton said. “Also, bringing the children here gets them used to coming to Rutgers, and maybe someday they’ll aspire to become a student here. It’s all part of engaging the Rutgers community.”

The Pellegrinos have been bringing their children to the games since they were infants and plan to return to the festival next year.

“We took a break from our normal tailgating and came here,” said Marc Pellegrino. “I’ll do this every year the president does this. This is great.”