On a sunny, bright Saturday afternoon in December, leaders from the 14 Best Start communities were honored at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Downtown Los Angeles.
Salsa music played in the background while over 300 members of the various Best Start communities chatted or walked through the large white tent with tables featuring information on the communities in attendance.
“Buenos dias! Good morning!” said Rafael González, taking the stage. González, who is the director of the Best Start communities, also served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
“Today’s event is our way of expressing our gratitude to the Best Start community leadership for their commitment to strengthening families, for strengthening communities,” González said.
The Best Start leaders have demonstrated focus on helping children 0 to 5 years old by developing and engaging in activities that have a direct impact on children 0 to 5 years old. For the last ten months, each Best Start leader has actively engaged in First 5 LA’s capacity building strategy called Learning By Doing – a five stage process to design and implement activities co-deigned by First 5 LA and community members.
Although González was very excited to have this event come together, he knows how these leaders really feel. “People don’t do this for recognition or awards, they do it because they believe in it, because it’s from their heart. But we also recognize that it’s important for First 5 LA to tell them that we really value the work they do in community,” said González.
“We’re celebrating, we’re honoring hard work, but we’re also providing opportunities to build relationships” -Adam Freer
The same message rang true with Jocelyn Ramirez, program officer for the Best Start East LA community. While she recognized that most of these dedicated parents and members are not looking for a pat on the back, she said, “I think it’s important to recognize their work and celebrate victories.”
Two First 5 LA Commissioners spoke, including Commissioner Nancy Au, who stressed the importance of these community members as “experts,” and Commissioner Duane Dennis, who emphasized the importance of community involvement and decision making. There was also a passionate testimonial from community leader Saul Figueroa and an address from First 5 LA's Acting Chief of Programs & Planning, Teresa Nuno. Additionally, Commissioner Philip Browning attended to show his support.
The event not only served as a place to honor community leaders, but as a way of exchanging information.
“We’re celebrating, we’re honoring hard work, but we’re also providing opportunities to build relationships,” said Adam Freer, who is the program officer for Best Start Metro LA. He sees the event as a way for communities to exchange information and ideas, when they normally wouldn’t have the chance.
Even for the leaders being honored, it seems like it’s just all in a day’s work, at least for Elisa Venzor of Best Start Pacoima.
“It feels good, but I know we can do more,” Venzor said. She’s certainly getting there, having recently started a petition to improve a nearby park by getting exercise machines for parents to combat the obesity issue facing the community.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the children.
“To recognize the children, that means a whole lot,” said Margaret “Mayai” Means from Best Start Watts-Willowbrook. As part of her service and her concern for the loss of the arts, she’s started a crochet circle to get parents making things for themselves and their families.
But, most of all, she loves seeing the children growing and blooming.
“If you’ve ever looked at trees, a tree that has a pole to hold it up, will grow up straight,” Means said. “A tree that does not have the pole, it grows up crooked. So we want that tree to grow up straight.”