Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2022 National League of Cities’ City Congressional Conference where we spoke with early learning researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Strong communities begin with strong families. For many new parents, the challenges of parenting can be daunting. As Huong Vu, Family Engagement Specialist at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester (MA), explains, the group helps parents recognize that they “should be valued as the first teacher of the child and the expert in their own life.”
Chris Riback: Huong, thank you so much for joining. Welcome to the studio.
Huong Vu: Thank you for having me today.
Chris Riback: It’s great to have you here. Been looking forward to the conversation. What is the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester, and what do you do there?
Huong Vu: So the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester, we want to make the great impact in the life of young children, youth, and their families. So we have been providing early education childcare program, the youth program, after school and summer program, and also the program for children with special needs. I have been working for Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester for a few years. And my everyday work is I try to make sure that not just family of the Boy & Girls Club, but the family in the community, they can have the support services, and I’ll have them to assess into some free resources in the community so that the child, they can develop healthy and the need of the family who we met.
Chris Riback: So very interesting to hear that it’s boys and girls club, but it’s not just for boys and girls. It’s for the boys and girls, but you also focus on the moms and dads.
Huong Vu: Yes.
Chris Riback: Why is it important to do that full circle of the children plus the parents?
Huong Vu: At our program, we recognize parent is taking a really important role in the child’s life. We want to value parents. They should participate in all of the level. They should be valued as the first teacher of the child and the expert in their own life. And we want them to be the powerful leader in the community.
Chris Riback: Do they want the assistance? Do they want the help? Do they want the tools? Do they want to learn about the available resources in the community? How do the parents react to the help that you are able to provide?
Huong Vu: I can tell you, our program, we have been working with a lot of families who are low income, who are underserved, the new immigrant family, which has come to this country, not just that we come to serve them, but they come to ask for help from us. Even we are the program who focus on the children, but we want to extend our service into all of the concrete need. They can come to our club to ask for fill out the school registration form. Or if they’re curious about their child’s development, we have a screening tool for them to know if the child’s reached the milestone. The need out there is really big, and we only worry that we cannot serve all of them.
Chris Riback: There’s too many. There’s too much need.
Huong Vu: Yes.
Chris Riback: What is the parent leadership model?
Huong Vu: I can tell you, the parent leadership model is the backbone of many great community organizations in Boston. We have been developing the parent leadership model for such many years. Again, we want to make parents at the center of everything. We want to have them to participate on all of the level. We want them to really value as the expert in early education. And we want to see them to step into our program, to partner with our staff to develop the model of the program. And further on that, we want them to be a powerful leader in the community to make the change, the impact, the positive impact in the policy and the system.
Chris Riback: As an immigrant yourself, why is it important to you to be involved in the work that you do? What do you hope the impact of your work is?
Huong Vu: Eight years ago, I started work for Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester just as a parent volunteer. And then I was promoted to be a part-time staff. And now I’m a full-time with the Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester. The directors over there, they really believe in me. They value myself, no matter my race and my ethnicity. And I want to pay forward for that. I want to set myself as a great model for the other immigrant woman so that they can step out of their comfort zone, they can dream big and think big, and they want to become to pull out their leadership inside themselves, to set the goal for their child, for their family. And saying about think big, they can be the great advocate and leader in the community. So we tell a lot of women, you go there, you go outside, you vote, but you worry that you cannot make any changes. But no, you, just as a parent, you can really, as an advocate and the leader in the community, to make a lot of changes.
Chris Riback: I know you would not want to talk too much about yourself. But given what you just said, do you get the sense do the parents see that you have done it? Does that make it believable for them when they see what you have done?
Huong Vu: Yes. When I reach out to a new parent who nervous about their future, I always started to share my own story, my own private story, even not a really beautiful, happy ending, but I want them to see myself as a migrant, an isolated mom at the beginning. Now I really go further on my career journey to become a full-time job. So I want them to really believe in themselves. If they work hard enough and if they build their own leadership, they can always be successful in a new country.
Chris Riback: The opportunity is there. Huong, thank you. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for the work that you do for those families.
Huong Vu: Thank you for having me have a chance to share my own story.