Building leaders from within
As a working parent whose first language isn’t English, 48-year-old Lilia Ocampo faced barrier after barrier when trying to support her children in the public school system. She found it challenging to get her son with special needs the support he needed, such as tutoring and the time he needed to complete his work. Lilia knew that there were people at the school in positions of power to make different decisions, but felt alone and ill-equipped to influence them. School meetings often took place in faraway locations that weren’t easy to get to and didn’t offer childcare. Even when Lilia managed to get in front of administrators, she was often the only parent speaking up and felt that her input and concerns were not taken seriously. She knew she wasn’t the only parent with concerns about the school and wanted to find a way to make her voice and concerns heard as a group.
Long Beach Forward (formerly Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach Hub) provides parents like Lilia with a place to connect with one another, share their experiences, and strategize together. A Long Beach Forward organizer met Lilia after attending a meeting at a local elementary school and listened to Lilia share her experience and desire to connect with other parents so they could try to influence decisions made by the school together. The organizer invited Lilia to get involved with the parent committee that Long Beach Forward and some of its partner organizations help coordinate. Lilia gradually honed her leadership skills by facilitating meetings alongside other parents and receiving coaching and mentorship from Long Beach Forward organizers. Being connected to a broader network of organizations and parents provided Lilia with an outlet to share her ideas and experiences about getting more parents involved and developing and organizing strategy, such as teaching parents about their rights, how school funding works, and how they can advocate for their children.
With the support network of Long Beach Forward, Lilia has recruited more parents from local after-school programs and schools to join the collaborative efforts. As an involved parent, Lilia was familiar with the challenges and obstacles a parent may face when trying to change their school. As a leader in the parent committee, Lilia feels like she is part of a bigger effort to deliver help to the students who need it the most. Because of people like Lilia and the support she received from other members, the parent committee has grown to a diverse group of 30 members. Lilia finds it fulfilling when a parent who has struggled like she has gets involved and realizes they are not alone. In addition, Lilia has learned how to become a better facilitator by leading parents with differing opinions toward a common goal so they could become more effective advocated for their children and other parents. Parent committee members have begun to speak out on key issues impacting their families, including the need to prioritize emotional and academic supports for students. As the parent group continues to meet and more parents learn about their rights, Lilia believes the groups can help parents understand that they have power in numbers to fulfill their goals of creating healthy and inclusive schools in Long Beach.