Para Los Niños is transforming lives by closing the achievement gap for children in poverty. Our early education centers and schools build on a child’s innate strengths and resilience, preparing them to be critical thinkers, creators and innovators. Each early education center and school is a family and community resource, providing a progressive, whole child approach to education supported by a range of critical social services including mental health, parent engagement, guidance in securing food and shelter and specialized programs to help families in crisis. Our mission is to ensure our children and families have the tools and supports they need to succeed in school and in life. Para Los Niños serves more than 7,000 children and their families each year.
Rafael Flores was born and grew up on LA’s Skid Row, living in the Simone Hotel in a single room with his Mom, Dad, uncle, three brothers and two sisters. “There were addicts in the stairwells and hallways. Almost every day I’d see people shooting heroin, selling marijuana, uppers, downers, just about every drug you could think of. As a kid I had access to all of this,” says Ralph. But one day, when Ralph was seven years old, his world changed.
Set in a North Pole-fashioned metropolis, Para Los Niños held its annual “Felices Fiestas” holiday celebration for over 1,000 children and families served by Student and Community Services. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León were all on hand to welcome attendees.
Held on the campus of the Charter Middle School, children and families received gifts of meals, beauty products and toys.
“I am proud to partner with an organization with a proven track record to foster community and this event is indicative of that,” said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “Para Los Niños is a prime example of the program Los Angeles needs to uplift our families living on Skid Row and throughout Downtown and South L.A.”
Upon arrival, guests were serenaded by a Mariachi band, and were outfitted with holiday hats and ‘passports’ detailing the activities, including street hockey with the LA Kings, financial literacy with Manufacturers Bank, food, a live DJ and much more. After three hours and 2,000 tamales later, each family went home with toy-filled goodie bags.
Every morning you can find Sheila Hernandez-Celidon going over the day’s agenda with her children Sarah and Aaron before their time for school nears. In the afternoons– and in between work shifts in the Garment District– Sheila often rushes to the parent-teacher meetings to track the academic progress of her kids.
“I grew up in Mexico City as an only child and recall being five years old when my parents told me they were separating– that’s when my single mother decided to migrate to the United States. Once here, she worked incredibly long hours to provide a stable home but I always found myself alone after school. I knew that my mother cared but she had little time for me because she needed to work; we needed to get by. Now as a parent, even though I work like my mother, I strive to be heavily involved in my children’s academics because I understand the value of that support,” said Sheila.
She credits the Nurturing Parenting Program at the Tina and Rick J. Caruso Early Education Center for helping build her family’s tightly-knit relationship.
“The Nurturing Parenting Classes have become a solid foundation for parents and teachers alike looking to build healthy family dynamics. The road to success begins in the home and we’re proud to offer these invaluable resources to the families who want them,” said Dr. Angela Capone, VP of Early Education.
On an unusually crisp fall day, nearly 75 PLN parents flocked to the W.M. Keck Foundation Early Education Center to spend the morning reading aloud with 150 children. The convening was part of an annual initiative to get students excited about literature called Reading is Fundamental (RIFSoCal).
With readers scattered across classroom floors and tucked into make-shift library nooks, the smell of new books filled the morning air at Keck.The reading activity culminated in an exercise to crown the day’s favorite publications; “Rainbow Fish” and installments of the “Dora the Explorer” franchise came out as top reads.
“Our Early Education Program is thrilled about this literacy opportunity to inspire children with books as they prepare for kindergarten and beyond. Research has consistently shown, access to printed materials is the critical variable affecting reading comprehension and PLN is accomplishing its goal of promoting its importance,” said Early Education Vice President Dr. Angela Capone, PhD.
Since 1972, RIFSoCal has helped move the needle on literacy throughout greater Los Angeles by providing over 300,000 new, free books for children.
This past Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at PLN breathed new life into a cultural celebration dating back almost 3,000 years in pre-Columbian Mexico. The spirit-centered tradition –observed in many Latin American countries between October 31 and November 2– is also a favorite among our Charter Elementary School community.
Family Advocate Eddi Ortiz serves as the resident expert in the intricately decorative art of Day of the Dead memorial altars– a PLN custom that drives volunteers in droves to help assemble the elaborate setups. Over the past five years, Eddi has corralled troops of students, parents and staff alike to contribute to PLN’s altar piece and to compete in Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s massive altar competition, which draws upwards of 25,000 people over a single weekend.
Every year, there’s a different theme that pays homage to the celebration’s roots and this year’s highlight was the Huichol cultural art of South Central Mexico. The Huichol art (named for its people and language) is known for its colorful yarn, beading and beeswax work; an art direction Eddi eagerly sought to recreate using original work from the Charter students and their families.
“The altar is a representation of both our past and future,” said Eddi. “While we work together and learn something new, we pay cultural respects to rich traditions that keeps families united– and that is priceless.”
PLN’s impressive altar track record was featured on Telemundo’s Enfoque weekend program; Eddi’s star shone bright during the television segment detailing our work.