Wilmington is a neighborhood in Los Angeles that has a high percentage of immigrant families who identify social isolation as a significant issue that impacts their health. This is especially true for residents with children under the age of 5. Whether they are recent immigrants unfamiliar with the resources available to them or people who have been in the community for a long time but who are fearful of exploring past their local neighborhood, many Wilmington families just don’t know where to go to build social connections.
Providence Health & Services in Southern California was selected as the lead organization for the Building Stronger Families (BSF) Wilmington initiative and is now working with residents, local organizations and educational consultants to improve access to social services for families and reduce social isolation. BSF identifies and trains local community residents as leaders who then go out in their community to implement events, programs and activities that bring their neighbors out of their homes, engage them in activities that promote social interactions, and link them with programs and resources that they need.
From June 2016 through November 2017, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Centers in Torrance and San Pedro, California, in partnership with SBCC Thrive LA and other specialized partners, provided 30-hour trainings to 107 residents. Training topics included how to identify community resources, communication and presentations, community outreach and advocacy, systems navigation, learning and teaching styles, and event planning. Then, residents were offered supplemental training sessions that covered topics such as grief counseling, emotional intelligence, child development, mental health, first aid, and alcohol and substance abuse support.
At the end of the leadership training, the newly trained community leaders planned and organized an event in their neighborhood meant to build social connections between residents. Events, some of which drew a crowd of more than 100 residents, included a health and wellness resource fair, a family day at the park, a resident-led talent show, family game night and a multi-cultural event with performers and food from Latin American countries.
In addition to training resident leaders, there is also a social isolation task force that has been formed to identify policies and practices that can be improved to help spot and support socially isolated parents. A function of this task force is to build the capacity of Wilmington-based organizations to improve how they identify and serve socially isolated parents.
Supporting a community’s needs
Access to resources and mental health services emerged as two areas of great need in this region following Providence’s community health needs assessment. The Building Stronger Families program was designed in response to a community-identified need to address social isolation. The cost to support the Building Stronger Families Program in 2017 was $447,511, which was covered by funding from First 5 LA and Providence’s community benefit investment.
Many residents who participated in the program said it increased their confidence in leadership abilities, increased awareness of resources and services that exist in the community, and it allowed them to get to know more people and businesses in the community.
Here are just a few comments from program participants:
“Before I tended to do things, but I was very quiet. Now I am better at relating more to my community and other mothers. I am more confident now to approach people and invite them to events or share resources.”
“Before I would drop off my daughter at school and leave as quickly as I got there, but now I feel more confident to approach other mothers. Even mothers that I recognize and may not know their names, we still say hi to each other and invite each other to community events.”
“I’ve learned more patience and how to help my kids learn after attending the parenting classes. I also know better how to speak in public and to others.”
Benjamin Alvarez, project manager for Building Stronger Families, said, “Through program participation, many of these residents were able to see how resources and connections can be made to affect real social change in their community. This program ignited an existing spark and provided much needed direction to Wilmington area residents that simply did not exist before.