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Empower + Educate: PACTL’s Framework for Building a Healthier Pasadena, California

By Evette Cisneros | Youth Advisory Council, Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders (PACTL) and Yoland Trevino, Special Advisor

The work of Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders (PACTL) is unique and challenging because of our diverse client population. Our organization serves primarily Spanish-speaking families, as well as English-speaking families, including Black families, and non-minority families. PACTL's staff represents the community we serve, and our approaches are tailored specifically to their needs.

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Our mission is to reweave the social fabric of diverse communities to help residents become active participants in their health and education through activities and services that build the capacity for youth, parents, and professionals. AP/OD has helped PACTL achieve this mission through engaging the parents in a welcoming, accepting, and diverse setting, and by building the capacity of parents to more effectively care for their children.

So how do we reweave the social fabric? Our approach is centered on inclusive engagement and cultural relevance. Here’s our framework for building healthier, equitable communities:

Build bridges of trust

Our families are often extended and multi-generational, and include children, parents, grandparents, and others. Trust is very important to ensure communication, for them to know we are not there to judge them, but to assist them with their needs, and give them the correct tools to strengthen and improve their lives.

One of our Abriendo Puertas classes consisted of bilingual sessions in which African-American and Latino parents both participated. Throughout the first few sessions everyone was hesitant to speak and share about their own experiences. As the classes continued, eventually everyone was learning from each other and identifying similarities in their own lives. It was incredible to experience them talking about their common experiences and upbringing.

Meet families where they are

The community served by PACTL is resource poor and we find that we are often challenged to get our programmatic needs met in traditional ways—therefore, PACTL has to employ very creative and practical strategies to provide access to all our services. To do this, we also rely heavily on volunteers and on our strategic partnerships and alliances within the community.

PACTL's wraparound approach is unique because we are able to provide the services at our location as needed. This is very important to those we serve because they do not need to bounce back-and-forth between service providers to get the services they require. 

Foster long-term engagement

We continually engage youth, parents, and families beyond the end of the program they participate in, to ensure that they become valuable members of our community. Many of them have used their skills to help with our events, or remain involved in support groups, advisory networks, or as volunteers within our organizational community.

For example, we have a mother who recently emigrated to the U.S. She took the Abriendo Puertas classes even though she didn’t know anyone. She enjoyed the class and now participates in PACTL events with her family. The PACTL community has become a surrogate family for her, and she feels a sense of belonging to this community. PACTL understands that parent isolation also creates child isolation, and with AP/OD, PACTL has helped create concrete support for families.

Break down barriers to entry

The lives of the families we serve are very challenging. They have many family and work responsibilities and not much time. They often have financial and transportation challenges, or have problems meeting their basic needs, including childcare. We have served both Department of Children and Family Services parents, and parents who voluntarily take the class. The program itself has helped them develop a prevention mindset for the success of their families, and we support them in the many ways that we are able. For example, PACTL has provided update letters to the Courts to ensure that families are making progress, and we have helped with housing, food, clothing, and other basic needs.

Offer the most relevant programs

We make sure that our programs are engaging, inclusive, relevant, timely and language and culturally appropriate. PACTL has positively impacted our community and word is getting around about AP/OD and our other free programmatic offerings, including Reconnecting Family Wisdom parenting class, Spanish literacy classes, drama and music clubs, our Know Your Rights work with youth, and many other programs to enrich the lives of families, and help youth and families succeed. 

Address a community’s historical traumas

PACTL has developed an engagement strategy that works with entire families to effect positive, sustainable change. We have seen positive impacts in our community through promoting intergenerational and intercultural programs to promote tolerance, acceptance, understanding and peace. This reduces intra-familial and inter-cultural violence and conflict between groups that have traditionally not gotten along in our community.

PACTL is very excited to begin offering AP/OD in English and tailored to the specific needs, while providing culture and language appropriate materials and instruction. We provided the first session of AP/OD in February of 2019, and one of the participant parents is now a facilitator for Abriendo Puertas. For PACTL, this is a great achievement because we strive to empower as well as educate.