Here’s an update on two of our Advocacy Network participants.
Stay tuned for more Advocacy Network updates in the coming weeks.
Huong Vu is a family engagement counselor at Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester – which is one way of saying she does a little bit of everything. She supports families in the Boys and Girls Club as well as families in the community.
“We offer a free play group, a parent support group, and family engagement events,” she says of programs for families with young children, “and home visits and developmental screening.”
“Most of the families that we work with are low income or immigrants. English is not their first language. We work with families who speak Vietnamese, Spanish, Cape Verdean, and Haitian Creole. And they are not just from Dorchester, they’re from all across Boston.”
It’s work that has given Vu a great perspective on families and that makes her a great participant in Strategy for Children’s Advocacy Network, a year-long advocacy experience for early educators and emerging leaders.
One thing Vu has learned: “I didn’t know that I was already an advocate,” she says. “Every day, when it comes to work, my hope is that I can make small changes in families’ lives. Maybe I can connect them to a food program, or I can refer a child to an intervention program.
“The Advocacy Network makes me think that I can go further than that, that I can bring big changes to families’ lives.”
One of Vu’s goals is to do more public speaking, offering public testimony at public meetings, including Boston school committee meetings. Vu also plans to offer one-on-one advocacy training to a group of parents, so that they can increase their advocacy work.
“I hope that together, we can make our voices heard,” she says, pointing to the need for more bilingual resources in the school system. Vu is also going to speak at a conference of the National League of Cities.
Vu’s long-term advocacy goal?
“To make sure that parents and families are at the center of policy decisions. Parents should never question whether their voices are being heard or whether their votes count.”
Having worked in early education and care for 39 years, Marcia Gadson-Harris is a natural advocate.
“If I see that something isn’t going right,” she says, “I will bring it to someone’s attention or try to correct it.”
Gadson-Harris earned an associate degree in Human Service and Mental Health, and started her career working at a child care center. After deciding not to return to work from her maternity leave, she opened her own family child care business, where she now cares for 10 children ages 1 to 5 years old.
After completing the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Leading for Change course, Gadson-Harris’ Department of Early Education and Care Lead Coach, Marcela Simpson suggested that she consider joining Strategies’ Advocacy Network. She felt it would be “a fabulous opportunity.”
The focus of Marcia’s advocacy work is to do community outreach, provide resources, and teach effective social and emotional coping and problem-solving strategies. Based on her years of experience, Gadson has developed a social-emotional health kit she calls a Guiding Hand to H.E.LP., an acronym for Hope, Empower, Love, Partner.
“I’ve always had a passion for social emotional health, and I’ve found that throughout the pandemic, the emotional well-being of many of my daycare children and their families has been deeply impacted. Families have experienced some type of crisis or trauma, some resulting in the children displaying challenging behaviors,” she says. Among the challenges children have faced are parents splitting up or grappling with mental health issues.
The H.E.L.P. kit is full of resources, hands-on materials and activities, and books to help people regain their calm. There are calm down toys, movement activities, and kid-friendly yoga suggestions. There’s also a feelings chart with images of face that can be personalized. The faces show different emotions to help children identify, label, and understand the emotion they are experiencing.
“These are tools can use by anyone at anytime,” Gadson-Harris says. In her own child care program, “We have choices to calm us down. Children can take deep breaths, ask for help, talk to an adult, get a drink of water, exercise, read a book, take a walk away from the situation or go to the calm down area.”
When Gadson-Harris or her daughter, who is a teaching assistant, feel the need, they go to the calm down area, modeling the idea that calming down is something everyone needs to do. It’s a particularly
important lesson given the hardships of the pandemic.
The kit meets needs that Gadson-Harris found during her Advocacy Network project, a survey she conducted of early educators, parents, and others in the community to understand the need for this kind of support. The top three issues that the survey identified were anxiety/worry, grief/death, and separations/divorces – all sources of distress that need “H.E.L.P.”
Gadson-Harris also has long-term advocacy goals.
“I want to partner with communities, families, children, and educators, being their voice, speaking out about the need in our communities for H.E.L.P.,” she says. “There are so many families who are suffering. I want to educate them, empower them, and give them choices about ways to cope and problem solve. I would like to provide support and resources to families who feel devastated, angry, hurt, depressed, confused, and doubtful. I want to provide tools of hope and encouragement. There’s SO MUCH anxiety. There’s SO MUCH stress. I want to let families know that WE care and that by partnering together, families and communities can get through this.”