Creating a Structure for Change in Compton
Over a nine-month period, parents, residents, community-based organizations (CBOs), stakeholders and representatives from Best Start created a governance structure, the framework that will determine how they will make decisions and take action to improve the lives of children and families.
“It’s been a process that’s frustrated some parents because many aren’t familiar with the process of developing such a structure from scratch,” says Saul Figueroa, a program manager at El Nido Family Centers. “But it’s also been empowering and a learning experience.”
The team for this Best Start Compton/East Compton project includes 50 residents, several CBOs like Figueroa’s El Nido Family Centers, and stakeholders who may not live in the community but are engaged nonetheless.
“Best Start’s activities will be primarily driven by Compton residents, but community-based organizations are also involved in the process. Residents discuss with the CBOs the changing needs and interests of the community,” says Alex Wade, program officer for Best Start Compton/East Compton.
Under the governance structure, parents, residents, and stakeholders will decide which projects will come to fruition and fulfill Best Start’s overarching goal of making sure children are healthy, ready for school and protected. They are currently focusing on increasing social connections among parents and residents to build a network of support in the community.
“Parents felt we needed to focus on this because of the people needing to make connections in the community,” says stakeholder Romalis Taylor, adding that Compton’s high birth rates and teen pregnancy can contribute to isolation. “They want to address the issues and determine what’s needed.”
Initially, residents were wary of Best Start because of past negative experiences with institutions and organizations. But Best Start’s approach to encouraging resident participation in everything from the creation and implementation of the governance structure to planning actual activities, has helped to win the support of many in the community.
“People can be apprehensive, and the hardest thing is building trust,” says Rashida Swan, a Compton resident and child care specialist at the Homeless Outreach Program Integrated Care System in Los Angeles. “But when they are told the program will be run by them, they are more willing to participate.”
Not everyone has that apprehension. Elisa Villegas, who has been going to Best Start meetings since they began three years ago, has never needed any convincing.
“I want a change in my community,” Villegas says. “I work for my community and want it to be better for parents and children.”