Best Start is First 5 LA’s place-based initiative designed to improved results for children, families and communities. The initiative, which operates in 14 of Los Angeles’ most challenged communities, supports the development of local Community Partnerships made up of parents, residents, business and community leaders, health care providers, community service agencies, faith-based leaders, local government officials and interested community members who have made a commitment to working together to improve the conditions and opportunities that will ultimately improve results for children, families and the communities they live in. CSSP’s primary role with First 5 LA and the Best Start initiative is to help build the capacity of the 14 Community Partnerships so that they are high functioning, results focused entities that will continuously seek to improve community and family conditions for children for years to come.
With a team of approximately 20 members, the Los Angeles based CSSP team works directly with community partnership members, local organization and building organizations to ensure that the essential capacity building measures that have been the core of CSSP’s work overtime are the basis for each partnerships’ skill building and design.
Transitions in community-led initiatives are a given, especially for community residents that have worked for long periods in place-based work. Transitions can result from major leadership changes, the advent of new support structures or even the implementation of new strategies. Yet the ability to reflect on transitions and understand growth needs to be built intentionally into change processes so that community leaders understand how much they have learned and developed during a particular time period.
For Best Start East Los Angeles (BSELA) – a place-based community-led effort that increases the health, safety and ability of children to be ready to learn by age five – change is not easy. So when its sole funder and operational supporter, First5LA, announced that it would transition its operational backing of meeting supports, capacity-building and ability to access funding dollars to a community-based organizational network, questions surfaced.
Because BSELA is one of 14 Best Start sites in Los Angeles County, CSSP’s Partnership Support Team (PST) recommended that communities clustered in Region 1 (East Los Angeles, Metro LA, Southeast Los Angeles and South El Monte-El Monte) be given the opportunity to reflect on three questions: Who are we as a Best Start Community/What is our vision? What have we achieved? And, what have we learned (as leaders/ as a community) through our work together?
As it turned out, each community had a lot to say. For East Los Angeles, the questions and the time to reflect on them gave Best Start leaders the ability to gauge themselves, reaffirm their commitments and ask questions about how they want to be supported going forward.
East LA’s resident leaders emerged from the reflection recommitted to their vision of creating a community that is stable, informed, supportive of parents and individuals and responsible for ensuring that all children are born healthy, safe from abuse and thriving before they enter kindergarten. More importantly, resident leaders reinforced their thinking that community residents—with support from its partners – are best positioned to continue the work of community education and focus on leadership development that will make deep-rooted change affecting children and their families.
In doing the reflection, many East LA community members fully embraced the title of “community leader.” When asked: Who are you as a Best Start community? East LA answered: “We are parent residents.” “We are the voice of the community!” “We are leaders!” “We are the representatives and managers of our vision.” “(We are) restorative justice.”
When asked “what makes you a leader,” María C., a long-time BSELA member, stated, “I have grown as a leader because I feel I have helped more parents understand (their child’s) developmental stages by doing outreach to get parents involved…and by providing opportunities for parents with children who are less than five years old.” When asked specifically what she learned to prepare her to do this, María C. replied, “To do this, I learned to open up within the group, how to speak publicly in front of others and how to be a leader with other parents through the Parent Academies and other capacity-building trainings.”
Another leader, Maria L., noted the three things that have most helped her to develop her leadership skills were “the Parent Academies, restorative justice training and learning how to listen with empathy.”
BSELA leaders also pointed to various other accomplishments and learnings. These included two broad areas: 1) understanding how to plan and execute a community education campaign to reduce parental stress by planning community outreach to parents and organizations, developing a community resource guide for stress reduction and participating in public peaking trainings and 2) creating an advocacy plan to ensure park safety and services for families with children 0-5. Together, these activities and accomplishments have helped residents to take on the newfound leadership.
BSELA community leaders agreed that they are excited to see the community’s response to being trained in child development, in the child protective factors and in basic leadership and advocacy. To date, more than 70 leaders have gone through the training. Yet the work happened as a result of extensive planning after community members identified there was a void in knowledge and practice of basic family capacities to understand healthy parenting and stress management. With community partners — Proyecto Pastoral, Promesa Boyle Heights and InnerCity Struggle – taking the lead, a four-week Parent Academy was designed to give BSELA members these skills. The plan also took into account the need to train interested leaders to turn around and provide the same trainings to other community members for as long as needed.
When asked what keeps them motivated to continue their leadership work, María L. responded, “My granddaughter keeps me motivated. My granddaughter who is 4 years old. I want that when she goes to school, [people have] the tools so that she grows up in a healthy environment. And, that her mom, her grandmother, her aunts and uncles and all who support her, provide her an environment that is emotionally, psychologically and socially safe and healthy so that she is ready to learn. And to be someone that is prepared for her future and ready to change our community. That’s what keeps me motivated and wanting to learn more.” No doubt, María L. and other East LA leaders are on the path to making that happen.
José Montaño is a Capacity Builder for the CSSP Partnership Support Team.