Building Stronger Communities: How First 5 LA’s Best Start Program Continues to Grow and Thrive
In 14 communities throughout Los Angeles County, First 5 LA’s Best Start program brings together parents and caregivers, residents, organizations, businesses, government institutions and other stakeholders to collectively build a vision and develop strategies to create the best possible community for young children and their families.
Through these partnerships, parents and caregivers enhance their leadership skills, increase their knowledge about children’s needs, and develop relationships with others so that they can be a voice for change and take action. Anyone who believes in our goal can join a Community Partnership, and our membership continues to grow each year. You can learn more here.
Below is a roundup of some of the most recent activities and events undertaken in Best Start communities.
A Healthy Affair in Compton
More than 75 local residents – many of them parents and their children – recently completed a 5K run/walk that took place on two major streets in Compton and along the Compton Creek as part of a Best Start Compton/East Compton-sponsored event to raise awareness about the importance of health and exercise.
“I brought my family – especially my girls – to come and walk for a healthy, better life,” Best Start Partnership member Maritza Delgado said of the Sacred Heart 5K Run/Walk and Health Fair held last month.
“I like the way we’re working together to build a better community.” – Maritza Delgado
“People were honking their horns to motivate us,” said lifelong Compton resident Jorge Ramirez.
The health fair featured booths from agencies like Kaiser Permanente, which offered blood screening for diabetes, and testing for high blood pressure and cholesterol. The event was supported by local non-profit Social Justice in Community Action and co-sponsored by El Nido Family Centers.
“I like the way we’re working together to build a better community,” said Delgado, highlighting the importance of Best Start’s community capacity building efforts.
The event also reflected First 5 LA’s emphasis that children are born healthy and maintain a healthy weight by encouraging families to stay active and participate in a regular exercise program.
“I’m here to promote health and social connections with families and children in Compton,” said Saul Figueroa, Best Start Partnership member/event co-organizer. “Exercise and eating right is important.”
Best Start Helps Create an “Artist’s Alley” in Wilmington
Nestled in between Long Beach and San Pedro, in the heart of the harbor, lies the community of Wilmington. There, where they receive imports from across the world, the hustle and bustle of nearby refineries and trucks can be heard.
“The community here has huge hearts, it’s no wonder it’s the heart of the harbor,” said Marcella Manzanedo, Program Officer for Best Start Wilmington. “There are families that have been here for over 20 to 30 years. There is such a rich history here.”
So when Best Start Wilmington recently decided to participate in the annual Sharefest Workday, a community-building and service day held to mobilize volunteers of all ages to work on community projects, parents and community organizations quickly got to work.
Together with I Heart Wilmington, which is run by the South Bay Center for Community Development, they started to generate ideas of what they wanted to contribute and change in their community.
“We started with a conversation about our local alleys. We focused on one near our center. This alley is used as a shortcut by the community, but they find themselves not wanting to pass through it because it doesn’t feel safe. There is a lot of trash, drug paraphernalia and homelessness,” said Diana Medel, Best Start community member and lead for I Heart Wilmington.
It was then that they decided that, along with local talented artists, they would design and paint a mural in the alley, titled Cultural Roots: Pathways to CommUNITY.
“We thought, ‘What if we create a path of art that people want to walk through, that kids want to come play at?’” Medel said. “Make it so that you want to walk by it and that it’s clean and safe. Just really change the perspective of the alleyways in our community. This was a resident-led movement and they used it as a way of showing that they were taking back their community.”
Together, the community and local artists began the mural by creating a timeline of the rich history in the community.
“We wanted a representation of our culture with vivid colors that people would enjoy. There’s an Aztec calendar, a pyramid, a train and a boat. Then we started adding ports and a really nice bridge, as a sign of the community moving forward. There’s a school building and important figures in our culture and community, like Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and the founder of Wilmington, Phineas Banning,” said Medel.
More than 30 people participated in painting the mural in the alley, located between the streets of Avalon and Marine, for seven hours. During that time, many surrounding neighbors and businesspeople came out to show their support, thanking the group and bringing them small gifts and drinks.
“Many mothers from our Best Start group brought their children. We wanted to focus on the children that are ages 0–5, so that they could participate in the painting of positive art,” said Belinda Noguez, Best Start Community lead and member. “They were so joyful. They got their hands full of paint, coloring the background in blue for the sea and green for the greenery. Moms were helping their little ones hold their painting brushes. It was an important day for the children to see their parents as role models, so that they’ll want to be leaders as well. It was a family affair and it really impacted everyone.”
“At 5 years old, just by coming to paint the mural, they saw something in themselves that gave them confidence. It taught them they can have freedom in the way you do art,” said Juan Gonzalez, Community Garden Manager at I Heart Wilmington and a local artist who was instrumental in helping design the mural. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘I don't know how to paint or draw.’ That day they felt empowered to say, ‘I can paint this mural and I can beautify my community.’”