In our eyes, all 12 months are parent leadership month. Every single month that parents are putting their all into raising their children, and advocating for their own and other people's children is an example of selfless leadership. While parent leadership is a year-long affair, it is awesome that one month is set aside to draw attention to and celebrate those leaders. We thought the first article of the month would be the perfect place to pose the question; "What makes a parent a leader?" and take a look back at our blog posts from the entire year to highlight those who have shared their stories with us. What may surprise you is that very few of these parents would consider themselves a leader. That is one of the main things that we have learned by hearing the stories of parents from across the state; they don't realize the impact that they have. Thankfully the start of February offers a unique opportunity where we can take a minute from our fast-paced, nonstop lives to celebrate the parents who are tirelessly working to make the world a better place for their own child, and other people's children.
First, we will take a look at people who would fall under the traditional definition of leadership. Back in April, we had the opportunity to sit down with Pennsylvania Legislator Dan Miller in the blog post; Western Pennsylvania’s “One Stop Shop” for Mental Health Information. Miller is a State Representative from Allegheny County who has made it his mission to bring information and resources to parents across the state. He used his experience as a family member and the lack of resources he was able to find and turned it into a huge asset for many Pennsylvania parents. He created the Disability and Mental Health Summit after going to a conference that was on the topic of Autism. He found the conference to be incredibly beneficial to himself and his wife but he envisioned one that covered all mental, emotional, behavioral, and social challenges and was free and accessible to all; and he did just that.
Back in September, we had the pleasure of sitting down with George Fleming of Allegheny Family Network (AFN) in the article entitled; Being a "Dad" For Your Child, Not Just a "Father" to gain some insight on how someone can make sure they are being a "dad, not just a father" for their child. Fleming leads the Fathers Involved Now (FIN) project at Allegheny Family Network and has become a strong ally and leader among fathers. He works on breaking down the stigmas associated with toxic masculinity and shows fathers that the most "manly" thing in the world is to be there for your child in every way that they need you.
Walking through the hallways of AFN will not only offer you a plethora of comforting and warm smiles but also everyone you encounter is a leader in their own right. It is not shocking that more than one employee from AFN has been featured on our blog for their immense leadership skills. Our very first article ever features AFN's very own CEO, Ruth Fox. Fox is and has frankly always been a leader in mental health advocacy. In the article entitled; When My Child Cried so Did I Fox recalls her struggles with raising a child with agoraphobia. She used her experiences to launch a career in mental health advocacy and jokingly referred to herself as "a self-taught CEO." Fox was poking fun at the fact that she is a CEO without a college degree however to us it is obvious that her experiences as a mother and grandmother taught her more than any classroom could have. Today her office sits at very front of AFN and she is a symbol of strength and compassion for anybody that she interacts with and advocates for.
Miller, Fleming, and Fox are all obvious examples of the kind of impact a parent can have when they take their learned experience and use it to advocate for families and children across the state. I think anybody reading about or interacting with them would recognize that they are parent leaders, and we agree. However, we have also had the privilege of talking to parents who might not look at themselves in that light.
One of them being Rick Jenkins from our article; Stay At Home Dad. Jenkins lost his job and instead of going back into the workforce he and his wife decided it would be best for the family if he took some time in between jobs and stayed home to help raise the family. Jenkins found a deep love and appreciation for the ability to stay home and care for his family during his children's formative years. He is a leader in many ways but two ways really stood out to us.
First and foremost he actively worked on breaking down the stigma surrounding masculinity and being "the breadwinner" for the family. Like Fleming, Jenkins never felt like more of a man than when he was raising his children, and he was not scared to share that with everybody he interacted with. Secondly, Jenkins used his learned experience both from the corporate world and also being a dad to eventually become the president of his town's youth sports organization. Youth sports have a number of marked benefits for children and Jenkins felt his calling to make youth sports bigger and more inclusive in his town. He became a parent leader in his town and made himself available for any parent who had concerns about anything related to sports. His leadership has grown the sports league in his town and has made sure that all children at every skill level and ability have been able to go out on the field/court while having fun and making friends.
Another leader that we had the privilege to speak with is one of our very own outreach assistants, Elis Romero. Romero is a Philadelphia native who is working on making sure the Hispanic voice is being heard when it comes to children's mental health. She shows her parent leadership skills by helping others in her community breakdown stigmas surrounding mental health that are unique to the Hispanic community. She noted that a lot of people in her parent's generation and the generation before that had a more "rub some dirt on it you will be fine" mentality when dealing with mental health and she has been working to change this mindset. Romero has also made it her mission to work with providers to ensure Hispanic families feel welcomed. She discussed how important good translations and accurate Hispanic literature are essential to this feeling of welcomeness. Romero translated the article about her and another Hispanic mother's struggles and leadership into Spanish which can also be found on our blog.
These were just a taste of the kinds of parental leadership that we have had the opportunity to learn from and highlight so far. Every week this month we will feature a Pennsylvania parent who has used their learned experiences to lead other parents into making changes. These changes range from breaking down stigmas to making concrete systematic changes that impact their child and other children after them. Be sure to check back with us throughout February to get inspired and when you're ready to join us either to learn leadership skills or connect with other leaders across the state email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love for you to be part of our Alliance!