community engagement

Welcoming & Empowering New Neighbors Builds a Stronger Community-wide Family: UnidosNow’s Parent Leadership Program

By Marnie Howell, Parent Leadership, Parent Leadership Director

Imagine a class where adult learners convene to gain skills that help them better navigate, and contribute to, their new country and community. Their countries of origin are Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Ukraine, and Venezuela. They join UnidosNow’s Parent Leadership program to learn language and life skills needed in the U.S. to help propel them, and their families, to success. Our parent leaders reflect the multicultural quilt that is our nation.

Our Parent Leadership program at Gocio Elementary School in December 2019.

“How do you say hello in Arabic?” “Why do you call your child papacito?” “What are avocado leaves good for?” These are questions that pop up in class. Often, there are three languages going back and forth, including English. Enthusiasm and body language fill in the gaps.

This pandemic has opened-up new and different opportunities for interactions. UnidosNow is no longer in the classroom itself, but operates virtually and, if needed, in person, masked- up and following CDC guidelines. In the spring of this year, many of our families found themselves without jobs, confronting financial crises that impacted their ability to cover rent, utilities, and food. UnidosNow, in collaboration with community partners, stepped in with a temporary emergency fund. Additionally, one of those partners, Harvest House, provided boxes of nutritious food for our families over many weeks.

Realizing that some of our families had no transportation to receive food boxes, nine individuals within our organization, volunteered to be drivers. However, more than food arrived at the doorsteps of those who could not drive. New friendships were forged, as in the case of Adriana and Kateryna. Although both were participants in our Parent Leadership program, they had never met in person. Adriana, who was a pediatric nurse in Venezuela, was eager to help with any deliveries. Kateryna, an elementary teacher in Ukraine, was grateful to receive some of those deliveries. In her words: “I have an interesting, wonderful life. I would never have thought I would be part of a Latin American family.” It is difficult to put into words all the aspects of our Parent Leadership Program, but one thing is for sure: it’s not just about learning English.

One of the last Parent Leadership meetings of 2020.

Through the program, parents build trust and community with UnidosNow and among each other. The program recognizes and fosters the parents’ social capital, which emphasize, and draws upon, all of the strengths and abilities they have brought with them to their new community. So, while they have the opportunity to learn about local community resources and the US education system, they also share their gifts and talents with their new neighbors and lend peer support to other parents.

And, as we are living Life in the Time of Coronavirus, it’s more apparent than ever that we, as a community, need, value, and deeply benefit from good neighbors!