Becoming a Change Agent
“A parent is the strongest advocate for their children,” said Adrienne Fikes, executive director of the Parent Leadership Training Institute of Alexandria. “Parents know what the child is going through. Parents see things that (nobody else) sees. Children need to be see the parent advocating for them. It’s a wonderful way to raise a child.”
Angela Drake shakes the hand of Mayor Bill Euille. Mayor Euille helped Angela convince the King Street Walgreen's to donate 7000 thermometers to every public elementary school in Alexandria. Photo courtesy of PLTI
PLTI was born in Connecticut in 1992, and came to Alexandria in 2004. Since then, PLTI has taught parents and caregivers how to navigate the system and become engaged in their communities as “change agents.”
A change agent, Adrienne said, is someone who, when presented with a problem in the community, and an opportunity to improve a situation will step up and say, “this is a problem and I’m willing to do something.”
Participants in PLTI go through a 20-week training, taking seminars such as “The Power of the Media” and “Social and Economic Trends Affecting Children and Families.”
Each student performs a community project. Children attend dinners and are exposed to what their parents are learning.
“It’s about active civic engagement for the parents and the children,” Adrienne said. “Some children have begun becoming advocates on their own. We’ve had six-year-olds address the city council.”
PLTI, she said, gives graduates the confidence and the voice to understand public policy and to engage the decision makers, and in some cases to become the decision makers.
Two graduates have run for school board positions, one successfully. Numerous graduates now sit on city boards and commissions. City staff agencies call PLTI to help fill their staffing needs.
“(PLTI),” said Adrienne, “is an opportunity to show parents they know more than they think they do. We’re building a community of people who want to advocate for children.”
LaVon Curtis, PLTI graduate, founder of Bryce Project, a mentorship nonprofit for girls.
What I learned from PLTI definitely was an eye opener as far as the different aspects of the community, all the different functions of how a government works, how the school system works. As a citizen of the city, who grew up in this city, I felt like it was important to give back to the city from which I came.
PLTI opened doors. It gave me my stepping stone. It gave me the courage, the confidence I needed to proceed with something I had considered. It was such a scary thing, but once I joined PLTI I had a better understanding of not only the nonprofit aspect, but how to use certain words, and how to network with people.
The BRYCE Project was something I thought I needed when I was growing up, and something I wanted to provided to other young girls. It started out as a project, it was not a non-profit. It grew into its own little world. People started clinging on. PLTI definitely changed my life. They gave me the opportunity to open up the doors for myself.
Mario Ashby, PLTI graduate, founder of Men Making Men, a community project to encourage more men to become involved in public schools.
[After Parent Leadership Training Institute], I felt better informed. I felt empowered. I felt like there were answers I could get for questions I have.
What you find out is that when people have problems, the main thing that holds people back is ignorance. They don’t know they have certain rights. When we talked about being different, it opened up our eyes to different perceptions, and it showed me that my view wasn’t the only one.
When I would go into my kid’s schools, I noticed how good my son felt when I was with him. I thought nothing of it. Then this little voice behind me said “can you be my dad, too?” It was funny, but it was sad. That’s what inspired me to encourage fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, to come out and participate with them at events. I believe (father figures) should be a part of a child’s school life.
E. Maribel Enriquez, PLTI graduate, now a facilitator
I was very frustrated because my children were not getting services they need at their school. PLTI offered me to (teach me about) the school and the city system. The most important thing I learned was that I was not "just a parent".
I started to find out about school board elections or any elections in my community. I started to vote, and bring information to my whole family, and make (voting) a family matter. I gained the confidence to use my voice, to speak up about my concerns, ideas and dreams.
I was able to understand and celebrate that I was living in Alexandria and that make me part of the community with rights and responsibilities. Because I was an immigrant, that did not made me less (of a) citizen. I am an agent of change for my whole Alexandra community. PLTI gave me the tools to be able to participate in the community at any level.
As a PLTI facilitator, I want the parents to develop the civic skills they need to be positive agents of change in their communities.