by Marshall Mosley
I recently met Denise and Larry at a mutual friend’s house where we met to discuss what living in community can look like. My wife and I were excited to learn from their experiences, because we feel like we are moving in that direction as well. We also shared with them about the community-centered after school program we began in our neighborhood. They asked us to share a little about our program, called Parents United.
After teaching high school in Fort Worth for several years, I became particularly connected to the first-generation language-learners that I worked with. I learned about the challenges they faced moving back and forth between two cultures and languages, and I felt led to do more for these students and their families.
Fortunately my church, Mosaic Fort Worth, is located only blocks from the school I worked at, and directly across the street from De Zavala Elementary School. Mosaic has a small group of members, but they were immensely helpful in getting Parents United off the ground. They allowed us to use classroom and kitchen space in the building we already share with College Avenue Baptist Church, Mosaic Academy, Wonderfully Made Dance, and several other churches. Additionally, many members of the church volunteered to help prepare meals and work with the kids. This program was only possible because of the wrap-around support and encouragement they supplied.
I also reached out to local elementary schools, churches, and non-profits to tried and coordinate our efforts. It seemed that there were many organizations working toward similar goals, but not working together. Fortunately, I found several amazing bilingual elementary school teachers who agreed to help create and teach our classes. These teachers made a huge investment of time and energy beyond their already challenging schedules. It was a wonderful feeling to watch so many talented and caring people surround the initial dream and turn it into a reality.
Originally, our ESL classes drew in the largest numbers of participants; however, the class that developed the most consistent following centered on improving early childhood literacy. Each week the teacher would read selected children’s stories with the parents. These stories served as valuable conversation starters between parent and child. The parents then took the books home each week to read and discussed with their kids. Additionally, the teachers helped parents overcome barriers to community and school involvement. After the first semester, the teachers designed the following classes around whatever topics the parents wanted to discuss.
Our goal was not just to improve reading outcomes, but to bond parents and child through the learning process. As our classes continued, it was exciting to see a community of parents solidify around a shared commitment to support one another. Each week before class, we came together for a home cooked meal. This meal helped Parents United become more than just a program to improve academic outcomes; it helped create a doorway for relationship. One parent in the group recently expressed how vital the Parents United community had become for herself and her kids. She was unable to visit her family in Mexico, so our community had become a family to her.
Over the last two years we have offered a variety of classes and attempted to surround our small community with support. We have learned a lot through trial and error. Most of the families who finished the first semester have continued involvement over the last four semesters; however, our numbers have always been small.
This experience has taught me to push hard toward my vision for God’s community on earth, while simultaneously releasing my expectations. I had many lofty goals and expectations for Parents United that did not work out the way I originally wanted them to. Our numbers didn’t continue to grow, we did not publish our curriculum, we didn’t establish our own non-profit, and our program is now coming to a close. In spite of these setbacks, I learned to value the small ways we were able to show kindness and love to our neighbors. I also experienced a deeper connection to my church, my wife, and others who volunteered as we worked together with a shared purpose.