Story by Juila DiGiacomo
A Cedar Rapids non-profit with the mission of supporting healthy families and children is innovating their services for Latino and African immigrants. With the recent addition of two AmeriCorps RISE members from these communities, YPN (Young Parents Network) is developing literacy packets and incorporating group support services for African refugees with young children.
YPN’s programming targets parents under age 27 and children within the developmentally crucial time period up to age 5. The organization offers a variety of services to create community among young parents and promote self-sufficiency.
“The services we're able to provide are helping give participants and their young children an opportunity to really grow and thrive as they develop,” YPN Program Manager Meridith Myers says.
Myers says YPN has been serving the immigrant and refugee communities of Cedar Rapids for years. However she says the new RISE AmeriCorps members have helped the organization to expand its opportunities.
RISE AmeriCorps member Maria Barroso has been working diligently with the Hispanic programming staff to provide English literacy packets for children. Bilingual materials in Spanish and English will help parents and children improve their English together.
Another RISE AmeriCorps member, Orline Makengo, is helping adapt the Thursday night “Parent Café” group for young parents who have resettled from Africa. The virtual meeting features a series of relevant questions to spark discussion among parents, with the intention of fostering self-reflection and learning among peers. Makengo is working to gear these sessions towards navigating the unique experience of parenting as a refugee from Africa.
Myers says the goal of Parent Café meetings are to strengthen parents’ “protective factors,” which are characteristics that predict the best outcomes for children while reducing the risk of child abuse. These factors include social connections, a concrete support system, social and emotional competence, knowledge of parenting and child development, and more.
Many young parents may not have their own natural support system, Myers says, so YPN’s programs like Parent Café are a place where parents of all backgrounds can find support in other participants and program staff.
“‘Parent Café’ is also meant to allow parents to get to know other parents with children of similar ages, who may be having similar struggles,” Myers says.