Many of the moms in my community feel like there is not much they can contribute in this foreign land that they now call home. As undocumented immigrants, they are ineligible to get a driver’s license or a job. As Spanish speakers with limited English and in many cases only an elementary level of education, they don’t believe they can even be of any help as a volunteer at their children’s schools.
Our church has tried to shatter those beliefs and empower those moms to be leaders and mentors. Through a Parent Mentor program we call “Parents United in Action/Padres Unidos en Acción,” we offer training and a small stipend to moms who in exchange volunteer for 10 hours/week at their children’s schools as teacher assistants. Teachers and principals claim the program is a win/win/win for teachers, students, and the moms involved. Some of the benefits they see include:
- Parents become a part of the culture of the school–which unfortunately is often not the case at our schools.
- Children see parents contributing and serving as additional role models in the school.
- Teachers have a part-time assistant at a relatively low cost to help provide more individual attention to students struggling in reading or math.
- Parents who entered the program reluctantly, feeling like they had nothing of value to contribute to a school, grow in self-confidence and become active contributors at the school on many levels beyond their work in the classroom.
- Parents see this as a job and take it more seriously than volunteers, so are much more reliable and committed.
- These parents often become the foundation of a PTO that struggles to get people involved.
We started the program at one school with just 5 Mentors, but have grown to 40 Mentors at 7 schools. All funds for stipends and other expenses are paid by the church, because we want to send the message that we care about the people and schools in our community. This is just one of several ways we try to come alongside the teachers in our schools who work tirelessly with very limited funding to educate the kids who have so many odds stacked against them.
One of our Parent Mentors recently shared about her experience. “It has been an amazing opportunity. I keep learning every day from the children and the teachers I work with. I have learned how important it is to keep in touch with our children’s school and their teachers in order to help them succeed.”
Through this program, I have had the opportunity to hear the struggles and dreams of many of these moms. One of them recently asked me what MY dream is. I shared with her my desire to help people develop skills and find opportunities to discover their gifts and passions so they can fulfill their dreams. And she said with pride, “So really, WE are your dream, right?” “Yes,” I said trying hard not to cry, “you are!”
Kirsten Strand is the Founder and Director of Community 4:12, a community development focused non-profit of Community Christian Church. She and her family relocated into the under-resourced community of East Aurora, IL five years ago. Their work focuses on education and housing issues, and they are passionate about uniting people across cultural, language, and economic divides to address root causes of poverty.
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