by Drew Furedi, PLN President & CEO
As we reach the one year milestone since moving much of our work to a distanced and remote approach, this feels like an opportunity to reflect and remember the incredible and purposeful resilience of the entire Para Los Niños community – our staff, our families, our supporters and our volunteers. What is also clear, is that every PLN child, youth, family, and employee has felt the pandemic’s reach, often in very painful ways, and we all continue to find ways to persevere and look ahead to a healthier, safer and more promising tomorrow.
That perseverance might have meant transitioning to virtual learning and remote training environments, securing a remote internship or new employment opportunity, studying for a HISET, or participating in therapy or guidance via Zoom or on the phone. For staff, this has been about navigating new teaching platforms or nurturing mental health from a distance, coordinating food and supply distributions, facilitating new health and safety systems for all PLN sites, or securing vaccinations for employees – all while balancing the needs of our own families – and often times, processing and grieving for what is happening around us.
We had envisioned our site closures being temporary, but this was not to be. It did not stop us from celebrating the things we always celebrate – just doing it differently. We celebrated our students’ success through virtual culmination ceremonies for the early education centers, primary center, and elementary school, as well as a drive-through culmination for our 8th graders from PLN’s middle school.
As businesses closed amidst broad public health precautions and actions, challenges for so many Para Los Niños families intensified. Our staff were quick to address these hardships, alongside our families, and we also leaned into existing and formed new partnerships to secure, assemble, and distribute food, PPE, diapers, formula, and cleaning supplies to support PLN families. Our Best Start team established a partnership with 16 fellow community organizations to create distribution hubs addressing food insecurity and transportation inequities in the community. Since their work began, the initiative has provided more than 16,100 food boxes, that’s nearly a million meals (and counting)!
Committed to centering justice and equity and ensuring the inclusion and impact of diverse voices and perspectives throughout our work, PLN stood with the global calls to end institutional racism. To further progress our social justice work, PLN staff participated in antiracism workshops, and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee began forming its vision and goals to guide PLN in leading with equity. We look forward to deepening the work of these ongoing initiatives.
When the new school year approached, PLN made the difficult decision to continue remotely for the new year. Students received school supplies and laptops to have the tools needed to thrive. In early September, we safely reopened PLN’s seven Early Head Start and Head Start sites at partial capacity to accommodate for in-person instruction for as many children as possible, while maintaining remote services for our other families.
PLN celebrated its 40th anniversary through its very first virtual benefit event in October, hosted by Mario Lopez. The event highlighted how PLN’s services have expanded since its start in 1980, and raised funds to continue providing services for children and families.
We ended 2020 with a new take on our annual Felices Fiestas celebration in December, hosting drive-through events at three sites with Santa Claus and PLN staff providing holiday cheer to families.
Soon after, PLN received a $1 million CARES Act grant to provide food boxes and access to food distribution to PLN families and families throughout the community in partnership with 13 other organizations through Best Start. Families were able to register and receive the deliveries directly to their doors.
In addition, our mental health team, through a grant with Cedars-Sinai, launched a website and resource binder for providers and families experiencing the trauma of homelessness. The grant formed a group of six agencies, titled the Skid Row Collaborative, and their work can be found here: https://www.paralosninos.org/skid-row-collaborative/
At Para Los Niños, we talk about Excellent Education, Powerful Families and Strong Communities as the essential ingredients for children and youth to thrive. With this one-year anniversary of thinking creatively about how to stay close, remain engaged with, and reach the children, youth and families of PLN; we are proud of all our children, youth, families and staff have accomplished.
After a year with so much pain and challenge, and an immediate future that will continue to test our collective ability to recover better than we were before, we are inspired by the strength, power and purpose of the people of Para Los Niños. As we continue on a path to healing, to racial justice, and to a brighter future, we are filled with determination and conviction that better is not only possible, but that it is within reach.
We look forward to welcoming students and families back through all our doors soon.