Parent Partners David Paige, Romelia Webb, and Laurie Proulx led an impressive family engagement program in Jamaica Plain this year called "Livin' It Up in JP" under the guidance of Lauren Morse, the Outreach and Partnerships Coordinator for the Jamaica Plain Coordinated Family and Community Engagement (CFCE) grant. The program provided free activities, events, transportation, healthy food, raffle prizes and more for low-income families in Jamaica Plain to come together and spend time with their families, as well as connect them with family support services, child development knowledge, and school readiness resources.
This was a new experience for the Parent Partners; none had been in a leadership role like this one. David said, "It felt good, it's something that I've wanted to do for a while. When we first started, we were three very strong minded people." Each had projects and activities they wanted the group to partake in – from kung-fu for the kids to healthy food shopping trips. Lauren, a community organizer and social worker by background, felt it was important that they have a strong role in making decisions for the project. Lauren reflects, "We encouraged them to have a team decision-making process, and I think that was a real strength of our group."
The Parent Partners and Lauren worked together to secure donated tickets from the Boston Children's Museum, the Science Museum, and New England Aquarium for as many as 85 people from the Bromley-Heath community. "I think just being able to spend more time with your children made the families want to come," said Romelia.
The group brought families in by going to community resource fairs, standing in front of Stop & Shop and other locations and talking to parents. Romelia and Laurie also did outreach by going around Bromley-Heath and knocking on doors. Lots of doors. People still ask Romelia to this day how they did it. "Not everyone can knock on doors and get people to talk to you. I was just being real with them," Romelia said. "The people that wanted to enjoy time with their families, they came out." She would send out reminders to everyone before a family event.
Then word spread like wildfire. "People told their friends," said Romelia, "and before we knew it, we were like, 'do we have enough Charlie passes?'"
They did, and the Parent Partners' ambitious coordinating and event planning is a testament to their determination to make the most of their budget. Romelia shared the Parent Partners' sentiments: "if we're going to do this, let's do it big. Go big or go home."
The final event was big, indeed: a barbeque party held in a grassy area in Bromley-Heath, in which over 100 people attended. The Parent Partners arranged for a fire truck and police car to come by – little ones were trying on fire hats and jackets, and peeking inside the police car. The kind police officer even went out of his way to bring ice cream for the group. There was face-painting, sand play, arts and crafts, ball games, and more.
A lot of the families initially came to the Livin' It Up events for the fun, but after becoming involved, they were connected to some of our other educational programs: some families joined our 16-week Family Nurturing Group, they participated in cooking classes held at Associated and a Pre-K readiness workshop that Associated conducted in collaboration with Urban Edge.
By participating in Livin' It Up and educational programs, the parents also connected with each other. Lauren explains, "providing opportunities for families to meet each other, decrease isolation, increase social connections and mutual aid and support – to me, that's the most important success of the program. They call each other on the weekends, throw each other baby showers – the possibilities are endless."
"Everything was fun," Romelia said. "We enjoyed ourselves. We got to experience things that we probably wouldn't have experienced and all the families in this development that came enjoyed themselves."
The Livin' It Up in JP project is funded by Thrive in 5 and the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)'s CFCE grant. Associated was chosen as Jamaica Plain's Neighborhood agent in this city-wide effort.