Bright, New Beginnings: A Q&A with Tamara Perez
This fall, LIFT-DC and Bright Beginnings, a nationally-accredited child and family development center that offers a bright start for homeless infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families, deepened a longstanding partnership to officialy work closer than ever to empower families to break the cycle of poverty.
LIFT-DC recently caught up with Tamara Perez, Bright Beginning’s community and family engagement manager and a big LIFT-DC supporter, to ask her about the importance parents and LIFT-DC have towards the work and mission of Bright Beginnings.
Q: Tell us a little more about your role here.
A: I am the family and community engagement manager at Bright Beginnings. I oversee the social services department and supervise our family advocates and outreach department. It’s an important role at Bright Beginnings. The social services team does the recruiting and enrolling of families and we are the first face that our families see when applying and enrolling.
Q: With your long history with Bright Beginnings and this space, can you tell us a little more about the Perry School and what it means for the community?
A: The Perry School is a staple in the community. It’s a stable, consistent place where families and people in the community can receive essential services, health care, afterschool programs. Prior to joining Bright Beginnings, I was first introduced to the Perry School around 2001, while getting my master’s degree in social work.
Q: How do parents fit into Bright Beginnings’ mission?
A: Parents are an integral part of the Bright Beginnings mission. Parent self-sufficiency is important to our success and we can never lose sight of parents. Without engaging the parents, it’s difficult to engage the entire family and if we are not supporting the entire family, we are not living up to our mission.
Q: When and why did you start offering parents resources?
A: We have known and understood the circumstances of families for over a decade. Parents aren’t data for grant reporting, they are human beings with needs and we need to support them through one of the most difficult transitions in their lives. Being homeless is very hard on the family and the parent as an individual. When you’re low-income and your basic needs aren’t being met, we can help support and care for you, it’s everything.
Q: When you think about these parents, how would you describe them?
A: That’s a hard question. I would describe our parents as dreamers and ambitious, but also strong individuals, searching for opportunity to be the best parents they could be in their current circumstances. Regardless of where they are or coming from, they want the best for their family.
Q: What types of things did you find parent’s needed?
A: Parents need a safe place to live and education for their children first and foremost. Our parents are often faced with their own lack of education/housing and are sometimes dealing with domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues. Parents need the support and motivation to address those issues. At Bright Beginnings, we create programming to address their needs such as therapeutic services and mental health support.
Q: What were you able to provide in that context? Has that evolved over the years?
A: Bright Beginnings has definitely evolved. We provide support groups, parenting classes, kid’s health classes, and fatherhood classes. This year we are offering more holistic nutrition for families. We also host events like baby showers, legal services and the Parent Resource Center has evolved greatly.
Q: What do you think the biggest gap is between what you offer and what parents need?
A: Definitely housing. We can refer to housing but we cannot provide housing for families.
Q: What made you partner with LIFT-DC?
A: We’ve had a great relationship with LIFT-DC over the years and we recognize the impact of LIFT-DC. The mission and vision of LIFT-DC align with our values and this is a great opportunity for families to get additional support. It’s a convenient progression for us as an organization.
Q: What do you expect Bright Beginnings, or more importantly, your parents and children, to get out of the partnership?
A: Anything that benefits the parents will automatically benefit the children. LIFT-DC’s one-on-one coaching sessions will help parents think differently about finances and workforce development. Families are taking advantage of this partnership to excel and create a better life for themselves.
Q: What’s your vision for this partnership between LIFT-DC and Bright Beginnings in the near future and in the long run?
A: I really want parents to take full advantage of the opportunity and to see how their lives change positively as a result of this partnership. By understanding the impact of finances, parents will start thinking long term, being wise with money, paying off debt. I hope to see families on the path to homeownership due to the help of LIFT-DC.
Q: If you could say one thing about the parents-and children-you serve, what would it be?
A: We love our families at Bright Beginnings and we truly want them to do well and succeed in life. Being here for 11 years and having families come back and visiting is great to see. Parents are really resilient at the end of the day.
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