I came to Mar Vista Family Center (MVFC) in 1981 as a parent looking for child care. As a young mother with two children, 3 years old and 12 months old, I used to walk to there with my children in a shopping cart. I will always remember when my daughter was 4 years old. She told me that when she grew up, she wanted to clean houses like me. It was a wake-up call. That’s the day that I realized that I was a role model for my kids

Later as a parent leader at MVFC, I learned to organize through the Shared Responsibility Curriculum Model. The model helped me to understand the importance of parents getting together, and feeling supported to help their children. I also learned that I wasn’t just there for my children, but for myself, my family and our community.

As a community organizer, I recall one day I was leading a community meeting and a young guy came to the door. This guy was dressed all in black wearing a red bandana on his head and black sunglasses. At that moment everyone in the room got very quiet. I walked up to him and invited him to come in and join us for the meeting. No answer came from him, he just shook his head. He sat there for a while and then left.

Later I found out that he was one of the main gang members on the street. I did not hear back from him, until one day, two guys came to my office. One of them approached me and asked if I remembered him. He said, I am here to thank you for being the first person in my life, who opened the doors and welcomed me to be part of a group. That was John. I remember him saying, “I wish my mom had the opportunity to be in a place like Mar Vista when I was little. My life could have been different.” That’s when I realized that parent engagement and support at a critical time saves lives.

At Mar Vista Family Center, we know that parent engagement is transformational. Now we need to prove that by sharing the responsibilities with others, we can transform whole Latino communities.

I am so proud to say that this organization has functioned for 39 years with the support and hard work of many people; including preschool alumni, past and present youth whom serve as leaders in current programs, and parents who wear different hats every since day to make sure that Mar Vista moves forward –  with its mission of Latino families building communities.

By: Lucia Diaz, CEO, The Mar Vista Family Center