Paving the Way for Connection

By Patricia Andre-Edgar (Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)

Four years ago, Alma Gonzalez (she/her) saw a huge opportunity to serve the Latino community on the Eastside better. Thanks to two grants, Alma was able to make this dream a reality.

With funds from King County Best Starts for Kids and Eastside Innovation Fund, Alma started NISO Programs, a local organization with a mission to create programs that serve Latino families with children from birth to 5 years. Studies1 have shown that Black and Brown children are less prepared for kindergarten, and one of the goals at NISO is to help Latino children prepare for kindergarten.

Support and Connection

Initially, NISO piloted a program on its own in 2018 to support families. While the program was successful, NISO experienced challenges in ensuring the information and resources were resonating with families. There was a lack of connection between those who were sharing the resources and those most in need of those resources.

Alma then recalled learning the promotores model from when she attended a promotores conference several years prior. Often used in the health sector, promotores are leaders and liaisons within a community who have already built trust within that community from being part of that network. These community leaders then partner with organizations for particular projects and receive training on how to share resources and information related to that project and community. This model, commonly seen in California, often promotes a sense of partnership and trust.

NISO saw the potential in cultivating such a network and quickly got to work. Staff started by identifying community leaders on the Eastside who already had strong social networks who could become a promotores. Alma and her team then trained each person. They introduced these individuals to different services available to them. The community informed their work and continues to do so today.

Based on the learnings from a community survey commissioned by Eastside Pathways in 2018 and conducted by NISO promotores, each of the promotores has four goals:

  1. Improve the maternal health of caregivers, mental and physical health of the child, and the overall wellbeing of the family.
  2. Cover basic needs like diapers and food.
  3. Provide parent support.
  4. Improve child readiness for kindergarten.

In 2019, a small group of promotores from NISO connected more than 100 Latino families with services and resources on the Eastside. Facilitators conducted between 3-8 visits with each family, starting the first visit with a survey to determine each family’s unique and specific needs. The promotores would then create a family plan, selecting how to best connect each family with the services they need. It is an intensive, personalized approach that has been met with appreciation and connection.

Since its conception, this program has grown to support families through 17 promotores. During these initial meetings and learning what families need most, promotores quickly learned that one area of need that came up repeatedly among parents was support among families from other families.

Creating Community

Previously, in 2018, Alma had attended a meeting with Eastside Pathways for the School Readiness Collaborative and reconnected with long-time friend Maria Alejandra Gomez (she/her), a PEPS Community Connector. As they got reacquainted, both women realized the opportunity for a partnership between NISO and PEPS to offer a Spanish-speaking parent peer-support program for families at NISO.

Within a year, Maria connected Alma with the team from Open Arms Perinatal Services to share learnings from the Open Arms-PEPS program that served the Latino community. After many months of planning, Maria provided Spanish-language facilitation training based on the PEPS model to two promotores from NISO, Nidia B. and Miriam L.

Six months later, NISO and PEPS launched their first PEPS Group together for five families in October 2020. In the months between training and establishing the group, many things in our world had changed. COVID-19 had arrived earlier that year, and the pandemic was in full swing by the summer months. The facilitators, NISO, and PEPS all pivoted swiftly to find new and creative ways to support families.

A facilitator and two families participating in the weekly NISO-PEPS Group video call.

For this NISO-PEPS Group, one of those ways meant meeting online over WhatsApp rather than in person. Learning once again from a PEPS Network partnership who had conducted a parent peer-support program online through WhatsApp text and video messaging, Maria suggested using the mobile app to connect this community.

The children in the families participating in the NISO-PEPS Group ranged from 0 – 12 months, making it difficult to find a common time – and long stretches of time – to meet. Instead, the group opted to meet for a scheduled 30-minutes, once a week, rather than the 2-hour meet-ups seen more typically in PEPS Group gatherings. To keep the conversations going and build connection, participants communicated over text and voice messages in an online chat group over WhatsApp each day.

At times, families would be visited by their promotores, in-person and adhering to safety guidelines, when they would stop by to drop off baby clothes and diapers. The promotores would also offer direct services, connecting families with other organizations, assisting with administrative tasks, and making personal introductions. Each week was based on a particular topic, and in between meetings, facilitators would share articles, videos, resources, and discussion prompts with parents over text messages with that week’s theme in mind.

The Highs and Lows

Starting any new venture can be nerve-wracking, and the two facilitators found themselves feeling quite nervous before the group began. Technology felt like a big hurdle to overcome, as they were learning alongside some families on how to navigate changes and new communication platforms. They had never led a group of parents to discuss topics like Development and Early Learning, or Emotional Changes, and Child Care before. Each facilitator had the skills, passion and was already connected to the community. With the added support from Alma, NISO, PEPS, Nidia and Miriam began to see that it was possible; they could overcome the unknowns, not alone, but as part of a team. The two facilitators received continuous support themselves to lead the conversations: through templates, timely resources, and having access to facilitation mentors by phone, text, email, and WhatsApp. As the weeks went on, their confidence built. Between the two promotores, roles were divided. While one led the conversations, the other took notes, and after meetings, the two would share tips with one another.

Challenges were met head-on, as a collective, with the one goal in mind: to support one another. “Community is so creative.”, notes Alma. Sometimes, families would join late or have to re-join midway. Sometimes the weekly online meeting would go over its scheduled 30 minutes, and families were willing to compensate and accommodate. “The good thing about co-creation is that we’re used to working in finding a solution together, as a whole team.” The weekly meeting was a time intended for connection. With families asking questions, responding to conversations and topic discussions at a time that was most convenient for themselves, it resulted in flexibility and increased participation.

At the end of the pilot 8-week program, families received gift cards to thank them for participating in the program. Beyond that, these families received so much more. Families found a community that shared their identities and culture, where they could build connections and find support, among other parents going through the same stage of parenting. The families also shared community resources for food, services, supplies, and events.

Looking forward, NISO and PEPS are discussing future possibilities. Together, we are planning a second group. It might be over Zoom; it might be text-based through WhatsApp again. There might be two groups, with one facilitator each, and perhaps the two groups might mix and mingle periodically. “I want to let [the facilitators] be creative. There’s no limits. They have very good ideas.”, says Alma. In the meantime, NISO will continue to support families with webinars on navigating technology to support their kids in remote learning, with direct services, and most of all, with a sense of community.

NISO Programs is an organization that promotes the development of healthier and stronger communities by empowering individuals and meeting the needs where they are, supporting Spanish-speaking families living on the Eastside in the region covered by Bellevue and Lake Washington School districts. Their mission is to activate change and growth in this diverse community through active involvement, purpose-driven empowerment, imparting knowledge, connecting opportunities, sustainable practices, and utilizing the promotores model.

Interested in learning more about the organizations we partner with? Visit our Collaborations page to learn more.

About the Author
About the Author

Patricia Andre-Edgar (she/her) is a mom to two young boys and a PEPS Second Time Around Group alumni. When she’s not juggling the joys of parenting, she leads the communications and marketing at PEPS, passionately supporting and connecting parents. Patricia enjoys geeking out about data and loves to talk about anything food-related, preferably while eating with good friends.

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