When First 5 LA launched its Best Start pilot effort in 2008, the goal was to encourage parents, community-based organizations, local businesses and other community leaders to work together to transform neighborhoods into places where young children can grow up safe, happy and healthy, and ready for kindergarten.

Ask participants today, and they’ll tell you Best Start is fulfilling its mission.

Jermaine Strickland, a leadership committee member for Watts-Willowbrook, touted the connections Best Start fosters.

Parents in particular say Best Start has helped them obtain the knowledge and services they need to improve the quality-of-life of their children and families.“To me, Best Start means giving the children of Watts-Willowbrook the ability to thrive in preschool and kindergarten,” Strickland said. “It’s about helping parents by giving them information on early vaccinations, early childhood education, home visitation and doctors’ appointments so that when children are ready to enter kindergarten, they are where they need to be and not behind.”

Liliana Tirado of Best Start Wilmington said participating has helped improve her life.

“It’s helped me by making me stronger as a human being, helping me be a better person and parent, and discovering my leadership skills that I didn’t know I had,” she explained.

Maricela Avelino, a parent leader in the advisory committee of Best Start East Los Angeles, said the program has improved the quality-of-life of many families, including her own.

“We’ve been working on a project that teaches us how we can better manage stress,” she explained. “Through Best Start, I’ve learned that the most important thing is to talk, communicate with each other and to find a solution for stress.

Lilia Sánchez of Best Start Lancaster said the effort has made her a better parent.

“After being exposed to all of the statistics about children’s violence, (Best Start) has made me re-evaluate myself as a mother,” she explained. “It’s helped me to correct what I used to do wrong, and reinforce what I do right.”

María Real, a guidance body member with Best Start Northeast Valley Community, echoed similar sentiments, but added that Best Start has benefited not only her family, but her community as a whole.

“We have started projects that benefit our community,” she explained. “One of them is about educating ourselves as parents. There was one event, in particular, in which we were providing tips about parenting to others. Parents learned about the importance of educating themselves.”