Calhoun County Parent Coalition building support from the grassroots up

By Brenda Brissette Mata

BATTLE CREEK – The Calhoun County Great Start Parent Coalition (CCGSPC) has made a concentrated effort to engage in grassroots community building to reach diverse parts of the population.

Zoe Brainard, parent liaison for the CCGSPC said the county has a growing Burmese population and a large Hispanic population.

In an effort to learn the needs of the Burmese population, the CCGSPC hired an interpreter to assist with translation during community gatherings where parents were asked about their needs and desires when it comes to early childhood.

The gatherings were held at the clubhouse of an apartment complex where many of the families have been relocated.

The same is true of the work the CCGSPC has done with the Hispanic community. Meetings with the Hispanic community were held at the office of the Latino/Hispanic Community Project.

“I think it was important that we went to them, to a place where they were comfortable,” Brainard said. “We set up child care and then had interpreters so that we could ask what is important to them as parents. What are the hopes and dreams they have for their children? What resources do they feel are most vital?”

All parents want their children to have a healthy start in life, a good education and an opportunity for success, but cultural differences may influence in what order parents set those priorities.

To understand those differing priorities, the organization held a half dozen community conversations in recent months.

“What is important,” Brainard said, “is how we listen. We sometimes set up systems based on what we think people need. We wanted to set up a system that looks at actual needs, rather than assumed needs.”

In addition to identifying the family’s needs, the CCGSPC hopes to encourage parents to become active in the community, too.

“We are very fortunate in Calhoun County to have the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Regional Health Alliance and the Red Wagon Organization - agencies that we can partner with and connect through networking that allow us to learn what they do so that we can share that information with the community.”

It’s important, Brainard added, that all members of the community understand the importance of giving each child a great start in life.

“We want to help families get the resources they need by letting them know what resources are already available and also asking them what other barriers make it difficult for them to provide their children with the early childhood experiences needed to give them a great start.”

To that end, the group continually encourages to advocate for their children and also to grow in their own knowledge as parents. Active parent members report the work of the coalition to the local Great Start Collaborative, ensuring that the parent voice is included in the work and that there is an intentional focus on what the community says it needs.

“Initially, it’s about meeting parents where they are at, getting them the resources needed and building them up as parents, Brainard said. “And then we can help them grow as parent leaders. It is important that the whole community feels a part of the work we do to make the system work in a way that benefits all children in our community.”