Just one home visit this year from the Antelope Valley Partners for Health and a chat about volunteering inspired Lancaster single mom Shelby Brown to become a Community Information Ambassador.

First 5 LA grantee AVPH partnered with Best Start Palmdale and Best Start Lancaster to train parents and other volunteers to be Community Information Ambassadors, or CIAs. CIAs learn about building social connections and networks, and increasing awareness of resources. They share all that information at events and monthly Best Start Community Partnership meetings.

“I had no idea of all the support and resources that were out there, right in my own community.” – Shelby Brown

“I had no idea of all the support and resources that were out there, right in my own community,” said Brown, who has 1-year-old and 2-year-old sons. She recently went to Lancaster’s Antelope Valley Wellness Symposium on Oct. 27.

“I made people’s day by them just asking a question, and me answering them,” Brown said. “This program has been teaching parents how to take care of themselves, and socialize. You realize, ‘I’m not the only one struggling at the end of the month.’ I’ve been going to play dates. I’m out of the house. I’m talking to people. I’ve come out of my shell. I’m so glad I had that home visitor.”

CIAs in Lancaster choose one of three agencies – Yes2Kids, Child Care Resource Center (CCRC) and Tarzana Treatment Center – to pair up with.

Yes2Kids focuses on preventing child abuse. CCRC focuses on early child care and education. Tarzana Treatment Center focuses on mental health, health care and drug and alcohol abuse. CIAs in Lancaster range from 16-year-old high school students to parents and grandparents, from all backgrounds.

“Our main focus is to increase parent and resident leadership. CIAs don’t need to have experience,” said Debbie Lindsey, program manager for AVPH, Best Start Lancaster. “I’ve seen some really passionate people into doing community work, and their confidence is really building.”

CIAs are asked to commit for one year, with 12 hours a month of volunteer work, spread out according to people’s schedules. Volunteers are trained during work hours. The grant period for the program started this past February, and goes until February 2018, with CIAs recruited four different times over that period. Training takes about six weeks.

Events with CIAs include workshops, parent cafes and family activities that promote togetherness. About 15 CIAs, for example, helped with the Best Start Lancaster Yes2Kids Winter Family Event at Lancaster’s Challenger Middle School on Nov. 5. Forty-two parents, 30 kids from age 7 to 18, and 16 children under age 6 came to the event.

“We had workshops on the five protective factors, to decrease child abuse, and family activities that were low cost.” – Debbie Lindsey

“We had workshops on the five protective factors, to decrease child abuse, and family activities that were low cost,” said Lindsey.

Kids played card games and table hockey. Each child received a book. Each family was given a kit with info on about 10 different activities they can do over the holiday season with their kids. A massage therapist showed parents how to do their own massages, and infant massages, to lower stress. Yoga, salsa dancing and Zumba also promoted fun and a lot of laughter. CIAs led the activities.

Ruth Morales, program coordinator with the Tarzana Treatment Center, said that the eight CIAs she is currently working with are totally dedicated to helping their communities. A TTC event is set for next May as possibly a mental health workshop, Morales said. CCRC is scheduled to host a holiday event next month.

“Why my CIAs picked the treatment center is that they know someone affected or need mental health services, or have themselves dealt with domestic violence,” she said. “This is why they’re a part of this movement.”

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