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A Promotora’s (Community Health Promoter) Personal Journey: Pathway to Capacity Builder

  ·   By Lupe González and José Montaño

Best Start is First 5 LA’s place-based initiative designed to improved results for children, families and communities. The initiative, which operates in 14 of Los Angeles’ most challenged communities, supports the development of local Community Partnerships made up of parents, residents, business and community leaders, health care providers, community service agencies, faith-based leaders, local government officials and interested community members who have made a commitment to working together to improve the conditions and opportunities that will ultimately improve results for children, families and the communities they live in. CSSP’s primary role with First 5 LA and the Best Start initiative is to help build the capacity of the 14 Community Partnerships so that they are high functioning, results focused entities that will continuously seek to improve community and family conditions for children for years to come. 

With a team of approximately 20 members, the Los Angeles based CSSP team works directly with community partnership members, local organization and building organizations to ensure that the essential capacity building measures that have been the core of CSSP’s work overtime are the basis for each partnerships’ skill building and design. 


¡Presente! Our Best Start parent and resident leaders yelled out “present” during the welcoming ceremony at the Visión y Compromiso’s 15th Annual Conference on October 6 & 7, 2017 at the Ontario Convention Center.  The ballroom that held about 1,000 promotores and community leaders shook with energy and laughter.  The conference welcomed members from local areas, across the nation and internationally.  Our Best Start members connected with new contacts and participated in dozens of workshops.   Opportunities, such as the conference, uplift the Best Start’s parent and resident leaders’ commitment to be a part of the process, create a sense of ownership and motivate them to become advocates for their communities.   

The following is an interview with Lupe Gonzalez, a capacity builder for Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) and Wilmington about her experiences as a community leader, her path to become a capacity builder with Best Start, and getting the Visión y Compromiso Conference, a gathering of community health educators, off the ground. In 2017, most of the 14 Best Start communities sent 90 parent leaders to this three-day conference. For more information about Visión y Compromiso and the 2018 conference, its 16th annual slated for October 4-6, please visit 

José Montaño: Lupe, tell us about how you started out and how you came to be a community leader and capacity builder? 

Lupe González: I born and raised in South LA, and the negative part (of growing up there) was that youth were not seen as being capable of graduating high school. Luckily there was a model that came into South LA, which was the promotor (community health educator) model. It offered community members the opportunity to be a part of the training. The model cultivated the experiences that people had and launch it into community education and organizing. The Esperanza Community Housing Corporation provided the first-cohort training for South LA members in the late 90s. The director back then went to ESL classes in the neighborhood and schools, and the application came to my house. My dad took ESL classes and brought it back for my mother. We (my mother and I) both applied and got in. 

The model opened up a trust-based relationship. I saw how it helped our family to develop better communication. The model helped me, my mother, and my family. What could it do for the community?

JM: How did you go from being a local leader in South LA to helping establish a national effort and conference like the one at Visión y Compromiso? 

LG: At first, it was just Esperanza graduates, then we started learning we had “cousins” in like-minded organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. We all thought we were the only promotor group that existed. We weren’t, there were a lot of us. We connected and talked together. We identified the need for the types of support, and because we didn’t have the structure to do it, we didn’t have an organization. 

Leaders from the promotor groups saw an opportunity to keep supporting us and to create a nonprofit organization.  We didn’t give it a name until a collective gathered, we got together at a conference about 90 of us, a lot of promotoras from different places, and we identified the needs and the support we desired. We started throwing out names and it became Visión y Compromiso. Visión because we had a vision and wanted to become liaisons, a bridge, employees, better people in our communities, anything we wanted; and compromiso because we needed to be committed.  

JM: Tell us a little about your how you went from being a promotora to becoming a nonprofit leader training promotoras? 

LG: Through my volunteer work with Esperanza, I became a part of the staff. I took on the role of the Director of Health Programs. I saw how grants functioned, how to supervise promotores, and how to run programs. 

Originally, I was trained in 1996, we graduated in December 1996, and in 1997, we wanted to go out and change the world. Each year after that Esperanza graduated more promotores. I became a mentor to many new promotores. In 1998, I officially became an employee with a program under California Hospital to teach community members about the Medi-Cal managed care system. 

JM: How about your role with Visión y Compromiso? You’ve been involved from the very beginning. How has your role evolved from organizer, co-founder of the conference to now what? 

LG: I wouldn’t say too much co-founder. That came from a lot of us. We were in different spaces, and we started by saying things like, “My name is Lupe and I’m a promotora de salud (community health educator/promoter).” And then people would ask, “What is that?” and that’s where we started gaining traction, validity, and acknowledgement. 

This year is the 16th Annual Conference. The way that my role has evolved is similar to the way I became a promotora, I started participating as a volunteer and became passionate about the work that they do.

JM: Lupe, you shared much about your history of leadership and how you helped shape Visión y Compromiso and Best Start’s involvement in that. Can you share with us how you came to be a capacity builder? 

LG: My journey as a capacity builder began four years ago when I was a part of the Best Start Metro Community Guidance Body. I learned about Best Start when I was a resident in the area and also through my work at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation.  While at Esperanza, I was working with the promotor training and participating in both efforts I came to understand that the two organizations had things in common. There (at Best Start Metro), I met Brenda Aguilera and Aja Howell who introduced me to the capacity building opportunities through training and practice. 

I was introduced to the communities of SELA and Wilmington, and with the support and trust of the communities, the organizations and First LA staff, I eventually became the facilitator for those communities.  When the facilitator contract came to an end, I was invited to be a part of the capacity building team.

JM: What are you most proud of with this conference and professionally? What is your greatest accomplishments to date? 

LG: Professionally, one of the biggest accomplishments is being a capacity builder with CSSP. To be a promotora and be within a team of people with such varied educational levels and life backgrounds. Wow! By being part of Best Start Metro LA… and now being a mentor to those community members that are following in my footsteps, that’s a great accomplishment for me personally.  

Because of the work that we have done together, the promotores has become a nationally recognized model. I was invited to become a member of the national steering committee of promotores in Washington DC. I’m really proud to represent the promotores en la lucha (in the struggle.) Many don’t have the income to go to meetings, or they don’t have the means of transportation, but they are still there. It’s their movement, they have a sense of ownership, so that makes me very proud. 

I have also learned a lot through my years in Best Start. Starting off as a member of Best Start gave me the background and context to be able to guide communities as they planned for the future. There have been wins and lessons learned. The promotor training I received early on helped set the foundation and the Best Start trainings reinforced my confidence. I have been fortunate to share my story with the Best Start members and hope that it motivates them to continue developing what they already have, to be the best they can be to support their own communities.

JM: Congratulations, Lupe! 

LG: Thank you.

Lupe González is a CSSP Capacity Builder, Wilmington and SELA and José Montaño is a CSSP Capacity Builder, East LA


According to the 2015 Census, in Santa Ana, there were 53,323 children ages nine years and younger (16 percent of the population), with 25,751 of them under the age of four. With those staggering numbers, multiple organizations (Delhi Center, El Sol Science and Arts Academy, and the Orange County Labor Federation) came together in 2015 to ask how they could create system and policy changes to support the economic needs of families with young children.

The opportunity arose for the three organizations to partner with the Children and Families Commission and the Center for the Study of Social Policy after the release of a capacity building grant that focused on a Collective Impact Framework, while also addressing the need to improve early literacy. The grant used the Two-Generation Model approach to provide supports and services not only to children, but also to their parents. The model would help increase early literacy outcomes, while also strengthening parenting capacity and addressing the economic needs of these families.

Eventually, the initial partners grew into a larger stakeholder group that would include government agencies, nonprofits, and the business community. The collaborative group, initially called the Early Literacy Initiative, changed the name to the Santa Ana Early Learning Initiative (SAELI).

Since 2015, SAELI has grown from three to over 50 partners that are focusing on two things:
1)     Enhancing early learning outcomes for all children prenatal to nine years old in Santa Ana; and
2)     Improving the economic well-being of their parents/caregivers.

When the Santa Ana Unified School District joined the group in the spring of 2017, the partners started looking at school aged children from preschool-to-fourth grade, and the many assessments used to measure their performance. The Children and Families Commission shared their Early Development Index (EDI) and United Way’s Family Financial Stability Index (FFSI) data to provide an insight into how children’s early literacy outcomes are affected by the economic instability of their families. What emerged was the need to target children at much younger ages.

SAELI knew that it would be challenging to take on the entire Santa Ana community, and instead decided to focus on three target neighborhoods. The three target neighborhoods chosen were: the Delhi Neighborhood, which includes Edison, Esqueda, Monroe and Washington elementary schools; Minnie Street neighborhood, which includes Madison and Kennedy elementary schools; and Pico-Lowell neighborhood, which includes Pio Pico, Lowell and Heninger elementary schools. Each of the principals from these schools committed to working on improving early learning and were tasked with developing a spark project that would help them target families with younger kids.

It was evident to the SAELI partners that by targeting children ages 0 to 5—before they reached the formal school system—they would have a higher chance of succeeding by the time they entered school. For this reason, the SAELI schools—along with the support from the school district’s early education curriculum specialists and other SAELI partners—created a training program for families with young children, in order to increase their awareness on the importance of early childhood education while also strengthening their parenting capacity. The result was Padres Poderosos/Powerful Parents. These 6 week, 90 minute workshops focused on a different topic every week, where parents/caregivers would learn about language development; early literacy; math/science/technology; health and social-emotional development; and school readiness. The goal was to teach the parents instructional activities for them to be working on at home with their children in order to better prepare them for school.

The design of the Padres Poderosos/Powerful Parents trainings incorporate three components: parent education on early learning, parent and children interactive play in activity stations, and a chance to connect with resources from the community. For the first 30 minutes, the children are taken to play while the parents learn about important developmental milestones and activities to help their children develop the skills necessary to be school-ready. After the training session for the parents, the children are brought back and they go from one activity station to another, where the parents and children interact together.

The principals, along with the help of their preschool and kinder teachers, provide the training and work alongside the parents and children in the activity stations. The activities include putting together puzzles, cutting out patterns by using scissors (teaching kids how to properly hold and use scissors), relay and obstacle courses to teach kids how to use their gross motor skills, and activities in which children use their language skills to sing songs and help identify letters, numbers, and colors. The materials used for the training and for the activity stations are all tools that families can continue to work on with their kids, at home. The principal at Madison, Lisa Gonzales-Soloman, emphasized to the parents the importance of continuing this work at home; parents later sent photos of themselves and their kids working on the activities they had learned at the training.

A portion of the time is dedicated to SAELI partners to share with the parents/caregivers about the supports and services available to them in their neighborhood. The SAELI partners gave a presentation on what they offered, and had a table with flyers, giving the parents time to come and learn about the available resources in their community. 

Parents and caregivers with younger children—who aren’t already enrolled in school—were provided the opportunity to familiarize themselves and their kids with the school setting. All families were equipped with the knowledge to help continue the education process at home, strengthening not only the capacity of the children but also by increasing the parenting capacity of the parents.   

"Padres Poderosos has re-inspired me as an educator. I see the impact we can make and how we truly are helping the future."

The engagement of the school staff with the parents fosters an environment for growth and development in parenting capacity. Parents also create stronger bonds with their children as they work through the activity tables, focusing on the key elements of development and school readiness. Principals and school staff administer an evaluation of the program at the end of each session, which serves to document the experiences of the parent participants. One parent at Madison Elementary stated, “I liked that I had a chance to spend quality time with my kids. It’s the first time I learned about a program like this, that incorporates academic things to do with the kids at home. I think it will help me be a better parent.” At the celebration ceremony at Lowell elementary, one mom said “I didn’t know that my 3 year old son was behind in development until the training on language development. I was so thankful to be connected to Help Me Grow, too, because now my son has been screened by a specialist they referred me to. I’m glad I came. I know I’m not the only parent who is probably experiencing something like this. Our community just doesn’t know about these things.”

The SAELI partners (schools and organizations) also mentioned having positive experiences. Principal Gonzales-Solomon said of the program: “Padres Poderosos has re-inspired me as an educator. I see the impact we can make and how we truly are helping the future.” A trainer from MOMS Orange County also recognized two parents that attended the classes he taught at one of the sites in Santa Ana and exclaimed, “It’s great seeing mom and dad active in the development of their kids!”

The work that the SAELI partners do focuses on collective impact. Nonprofits, businesses, and ---schools collaborate together to make positive changes in Santa Ana. The next steps for the group focus on parent engagement in the three target neighborhoods. By approaching parents/caregivers, residents and community leaders, SAELI hopes to weave another component into the collaborative group. The goal is to connect families and community members—with an interest in improving early learning outcomes and family economic stability—to more supports and services by activating a neighborhood leadership team that can serve as connectors to formal and informal supports and services. Padres Poderosos/Powerful Parents has been just one tool that is making this happen. It is evident that parents are emerging as more informed community members, and possibly as future leaders that can help improve the well-being of their neighborhood.

Paola Padilla is a project coordinator with SAELI.

CSSP welcomes guest blogger, Amy Turner-Thole of First Steps Kent, who shares the story behind a great victory for young children in Kent County, a community of more than 600,000 people in western Michigan, which includes Grand Rapids. First Steps Kent, a longstanding member of the Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC) supported by CSSP, has been working tirelessly to secure sustainable financing for early childhood services in the county. We congratulate First Steps Kent and its partners on reaching a key milestone in this effort! 

“This is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do.” 

That has been a guiding mantra for the coalition of community leaders working for the last two decades to increase investment in our youngest children. It was a message that resonated with the Kent County Board of Commissioners as its members voted June 28 to put an early childhood millage, or property tax levy, on the county-wide ballot in November.

 “We are grateful that our county commissioners see the value in providing high-quality early childhood services so that kids are healthy and ready to succeed in school,” said Annemarie Valdez, president/CEO of First Steps Kent, the nonprofit organization that proposed the early childhood millage. “We believe voters in our community will do the same.”

If approved by Kent County voters, the millage will generate approximately $5.5 million a year for six years to pay for services including home visiting, play and learn groups, developmental screenings, and navigation to help families access those resources. Funding will be distributed to community-based organizations to increase the number of children and families they serve. A portion of the funds will be used to develop a community-wide data system to measure impact. 

While First Steps Kent led the efforts to get the issue on the ballot, the public campaign will be handed over to Yes Ready by 5. With a “yes” vote in November, Kent County would become the first county in Michigan with a dedicated property millage for early childhood services. 

Getting to this point has been a long journey. 

In the early 1990’s, there was a growing understanding among child advocates that improving outcomes and eliminating longstanding disparities would require starting earlier—with babies and toddlers. What followed was a process of research, education, and consensus-building. Part of that was to bring together a powerful cadre of “unusual suspects” to champion the cause. 

“We reached out to influential business and community leaders who cared about kids and understood that we had to do things differently to get different results,” explained Kate Pew Wolters, co-chair of First Steps Kent and chair of the Steelcase Foundation. “We were intentionally bipartisan, recognizing that we needed people from diverse perspectives if we were really going to advance the community conversation.”   

That conversation focused on both the moral imperative and the business case, with a heavy emphasis on the return on investment associated with high-quality early childhood programs. There have been extensive public will-building efforts and education campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood. The community has seen significant gains over the last two decades, thanks to both public and private investments. However, the current capacity still falls far short of the need.             

First Steps Kent conducted an analysis in 2017, to better understand how many children and families are served currently, how many more need support, and what it would cost to provide those services. It uncovered big gaps including the fact that more than half of children eligible for home visiting are not receiving the service. Only 15 percent of economically disadvantaged three-year-olds are enrolled in preschool. Fewer than one-third of young children get routine developmental screenings.             

A successful millage will not fill all those gaps. What it will do is provide sustainable funding for some of the most vital early childhood services that will improve outcomes for children and families and achieve results that can influence public policy. It will help attract additional private funders as they recognize Kent County as a place where their collective investments can make a significant impact. It will demonstrate our community’s commitment to the principle that every child deserves to be healthy and ready to learn, and the understanding that our future prosperity depends on it.

Amy Turner-Thole is a communications consultant who has worked with First Steps Kent for the last 10 years.

Fighting for Social Justice: 40 Years of Innovation

  ·   By Frank Farrow

This year marks an important one for CSSP as we celebrate 40 years of fighting for social justice. Looking back over these four decades, I find myself both amazed and proud that CSSP has come so far from our start as a modest policy center of the University of Chicago in Washington, D.C. to where we are now as an innovative, national non-profit with partners and projects across the nation. We’ve had many accomplishments and touched many lives over the years. 

It would take reams of paper – or more aptly, screens of text – to accurately cover our work in these last decades, but allow me to share briefly a bit of our history. 

Founded in 1978 by the visionary Tom Joe, with his co-creator Harold Richman, then Dean of the School of Social Services Administration at the University, CSSP worked with a variety of different stakeholders – from welfare rights organizations, labor unions, policymakers and state and local administrators – to combat poverty, fight for access to education for all children, address racial equity, and be a pioneer in using outcomes data to identify policy directions. Our work spans many different areas, always with a focus on changing the systems and situations that impact those most marginalized in our society, while also striving to open up opportunity.  We have worked for: 

  • Providing Children with a Good Start in Life: We have long focused on policies that increase the odds that all children are born healthy, developmentally on track by age three, enter school ready to learn and read well in third grade.
  • Successful Public Systems for Families: Working with gifted public sector leaders, we have helped improve the operation of child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health agencies. We’ve focused efforts to reduce disparate outcomes based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and immigrant and ability status. Through our work, we have created a new narrative of what’s possible for the young people impacted by these systems.
  • Building Strong Communities: CSSP’s earliest work taught us that the intersection of place, race, and poverty affects the lives of far too many children. Working with dozens of communities, we helped establish the field of place-based, result-focused work, testing ways to partner with residents and other community leaders to build and shape their own futures.
  • Creating Policy to Improve Results at Scale: CSSP’s efforts are ultimately aimed at influencing public policies that will eliminate barriers and close equity gaps so that all children, youth and families can thrive. We are committed to developing policy strategies that reflect and support the best of what we learn from the field.

Our past is our future. To achieve another 40 years of similar progress and achieve truly equitable outcomes for all children, youth, families and communities, we recommit ourselves to working towards the radical transformation of public systems, to new efforts that support communities, and to public policies that will institutionalize and support these changes. Equity will forever be a core focus of all that we do. From internal policies to the work that we produce, we believe that reducing poverty, dismantling racism, and addressing the other root causes of our nation’s huge gaps in opportunity and outcomes are the key to reducing disparities based on race, ethnicity, sovereignty, gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, and socioeconomic status. 

As CSSP enters its fifth decade, we invite you to celebrate with us. Later this year, we will host a celebration in Washington, D.C., which you can learn more about here. In the meantime, join us on Twitter and Facebook as we share memories, triumphs, and lessons we’ve learned over our history.  Follow along using #CSSP40. 

It has been my great pleasure to lead CSSP for nearly 20 years; with a clear focus on what families and communities need to thrive, I look forward to working with our extraordinary board, staff, and many, many partners to continue to turn ideas into action and to make a difference.

Frank Farrow is the president at CSSP.


CSSP’s Young Children and Their Families (YCF) team joins the loud chorus of voices from around the country in celebration of children and parents who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Like all parents, those who identify as LGBTQ want what is best for their children and hold big dreams for their futures. Children who identify as LGBTQ or who are gender non-conforming need the same unconditional love and support from their parents and other caring adults as all children do. All families, regardless of family members’ sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE), have their own unique strengths and challenges. And all parents, regardless of SOGIE, need support from time to time. Early childhood professionals are a key source of such support. Through everyday interactions, professionals in the fields of early care and education, health, and family support build close relationships with families that promote child and family well-being. In the remaining days of Pride Month, we highlight a few resources for families and early childhood providers in support of LGBTQ children and families. Happy Pride Month!

These resources from the National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement offer tips for early childhood providers on creating a welcoming program for LGBTQ families. Written for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, these resources are also relevant to a wide range of early childhood programs and settings, from Center-based and Family Child Care to Pre-kindergarten classrooms to home visiting programs. They include: Partnering with Parents Who Identify as LGBT, A Checklist for Programs, Children's Books that Include Diverse Family Structures, and Resources about Diverse Family Structures.

This CSSP blog post on Gender, Sexuality and Parenting (October, 2017) explores key questions about SOGIE and parenting: How should parents respond when their young children embrace a gender identity and/or expression that doesn’t line up with expectations? How should parents respond when their teenage or young adult children come out? What commitments do foster and adoptive parents make to accept the children and young people they bring into their families? On the other side of the parenting equation, does a parent’s SOGIE matter to their ability to love and nurture children? Should parents’ SOGIE be taken into consideration as systems try to find homes for the children needing families in this country?

With partners at Family Builders By Adoption in Oakland, California, CSSP’s getR.E.A.L. initiative developed a guide, Raising Healthy and Happy LGBT & Gender Non-Conforming Children, to help parents navigate what may be unfamiliar terrain. Birth parent, foster parent or adoptive parent, it boils down to being loving, supportive, accepting and open with your child, and advocating for them with other people or institutions (like church or school) that may not be as supportive.

“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Parents,” Facts for Families No. 92 from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry dispels myths related to the outcomes for children raised by LGBTQ parents compared to those for children from heterosexual families. The report concludes that it is the quality of the parent relationships with young children that affects their development.

Anna Lovejoy is a senior associate at CSSP.


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