This year, my oldest child started kindergarten. Just before kindergarten registration, my family was able to purchase a home in Anaheim, which was a small miracle, and we were able to enroll our son in the Anaheim Elementary School District, the same district where most of our women send their children to school. I was excited about living close to both work and school (a luxury I never had before), but did not anticipate the impact it would have on me as it relates to my work here at My Safe Harbor.
The community liaison at my son’s school asked me to be part of a new program called the Parent Leadership Institute (PLI). I didn’t need to add anything to my already full plate, but I said yes anyway. I am so glad I did. The PLI program was initiated by the district and each month the parent leaders from all the elementary schools come together for training. When I walked into the first session, I saw several familiar faces. Some of our Strong Families Institute graduates were also selected to be part of this program! At first they were confused, wondering why I was there, until I proudly announced, “I’m here as a parent, too!”
Over the last several months, we have come together as parent leaders, and each month our SFI grads get to see me as an equal. I may be white, educated, and fluent in English, but that’s where our differences stop. Underneath all that, I am a mother just like them, and they are just like me. We are all trying to do the best for our children and we are all learning about tools and resources that can help us do better. I am grateful for this opportunity to connect with our graduates as another mother, and I am extremely proud of them for being leaders in our community. Last month, the PLI parents were introduced to the school board and the district PTA members. In that room there were six SFI grads and three current SFI students serving as hand-picked leaders in their schools. This is remarkable!
This experience has been affirming for me in two ways. One is realizing once again that we are doing something right at MSH. Our program is working! Many of our women are becoming leaders in our community and others can see the changes they’ve made. The second is knowing I am where I am meant to be. Had we not moved to Anaheim, had we not put our child in Anaheim schools, had I not said yes to that community liaison role, I would not have had the opportunity to connect with these women as another mother. This connection is invaluable. It gives me the chance to know them better and see them in a light I can relate to. I know these mothers better now, and we are both seeing past the barriers of race, class, and language that can so often be a hindrance to really connecting and growing.
-Jessika Ahlberg, LCSW, Program Director