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

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 Julia Williams, Jason Elder, Mabel Nelson, and Raena Mitchell learning to analyze socioeconomic trends impacting families.   Photo courtesy of PLTI.

Participants Julia Williams, Jason Elder, Mabel Nelson, and Raena Mitchell learning to analyze socioeconomic trends impacting families. Photo courtesy of PLTI.

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.”

  Mariam Fikre and her son, Nathanael, addressing the Alexandria City Council regarding their concerns on the public budget.  Photo courtesy of PLTI.

Mariam Fikre and her son, Nathanael, addressing the Alexandria City Council regarding their concerns on the public budget. Photo courtesy of PLTI.

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.

  Pablo Pineda and Kristina Hogan lead their classmates in an interactive exercise designed to teach them more about how government allocate budget funding.  Photo courtesy of PLTI

Pablo Pineda and Kristina Hogan lead their classmates in an interactive exercise designed to teach them more about how government allocate budget funding. Photo courtesy of PLTI

“(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.”