Finding community, leading change
Amber Robinson of the Guilford Parent Leader Network remembers when it started with focus groups in Guilford County. “Back in 2014, I was part of Photo Voice, which gave parents digital cameras to capture our every day lives. We answered questions with photos about our every day lives,” Robinson remembers. “It was a precursor to the Family Action Learning Teams which became part of the national Parent Leader Network.” An original member, Robinson remains active in the group which coalesced into its present form as Ready for School, Ready for Life became a nonprofit organization.
“The Parent Leader Network is a group of individuals who come together to discuss the needs of families and the community and how best to serve our children,” says Sanaa Sharrieff, who joined the network two years ago when her children were in preschool. Now they are in first grade, and Sharrieff says the connections she has made with other parents and caregivers in the community have been invaluable.
The Guilford Parent Leader Network was established as a decision-making body of Ready for School, Ready for Life. The goal of the group is to ensure that family voice is brought into every key decision as we work together to build an innovative, connected early childhood system in Guilford County.
“Having our voices heard as parents, having our voices heard as members of the community and learning how to navigate the space that we’re in right now while still being effective parents plus all the resources have been phenomenal,” Sharrieff said.
Monthly meetings bring the group together — in-person before the pandemic, and virtually right now. During the meetings, the group discusses a topic, but there’s always room to provide each other with support or newly-discovered resources that can help each parent and caregiver succeed.
“It’s so important to create a support network in the community and help people see that they’re actually leaders and change agents,” Robinson said. The larger national network involved has offered additional resources such as trips to Chicago, and this year, a conference made virtual by COVID-19.
“When we did the (national) Parent Leader Network Summit, we had 20 minutes of guided breathing and meditation. It was an affirmation that we are more than parents, we are individuals who contribute to the planet and need this kind of self-care,” Sharrieff says. “Then we went into the let’s put on our superhero capes and set these goals and figure out together how we’re going to affect change in society. It’s just really empowering.”
Sharrieff also says a group chat allows the members to stay in touch informally and share resources between meetings. “We’re here for each other. We’re learning ways to be great leaders, listeners, and supporters. I’m really grateful to be connected to this network.”
If you’d like to know more about the Guilford Parent Leader Network, which typically meets on the third Monday from 7-8:30 p.m. each month, please email Heather Adams, Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. The group is open to new members with children from birth to age eight, who are interested in serving as decision-makers, consultants, and ambassadors for Ready Ready’s work in Guilford County.