By: April Messenger, WSA Parent Ambassador Program Manager. 05/04/2020.

Whew! What a few whirlwind months this has been! I stepped in to the new role of Program Manager for Parent Ambassadors on January 1. Already hustling and bustling with the legislative session happenings, this thing called COVID-19 came along and threw a giant jack knife in my plans. This new position was created to plan for and expand the current PA program. A lot of my focus was to be on diversifying the cohorts as well as plan for expanding roles and programs for Alumni.

That has taken a significant turn of events. We were planning for our first Face to Face meeting of Cohort 12 in March. As COVID started to ramp up in our area, our meeting spot at the ever famous Dumas Bay happens to be in Federal Way which had confirmed cases. We made the heartbreaking decision to cancel our first meeting of the new group. We had 4 pregnant moms at the time and didn’t want to risk anyone’s health. From there we tried rescheduling and being creative in meetings. We scheduled some regional “pod” meetings for our staff to attend and train smaller groups of parents and still get our work done. About 3 days before our first one, the Governor declared the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” orders. Our staff worked hard to try and scramble and figure out how to keep the current cohort engaged and active without having the face to face and relationship building opportunities that comes with spending 3 days together. We have struggled, our families are struggling, we are all faced with uncertainty and anxiety that none of us have felt in our lifetimes before. Yet, our staff has been working diligently together and making connections with the parents. We changed our bi-weekly meetings to be every Monday to continue to try to get the trainings done to prepare our parents for a possible special session and elections. This has proved to be challenging, but all of our parents are resilient as are we. Every cohort has a nickname, and this year is the year of Patience with the Pandemic. We are counting on our parents to have patience with us as we navigate these new waters. While it’s been challenging, it’s also created opportunity.

One of my program deliverables of diversifying the cohort has been to try and create an online model. We’ve heard from child care parents, mostly middle class parents who are interested in this program, that they’d apply, but they can’t meet our 4, 3 day mandatory trainings. They don’t have paid time off, or vacation time that would allow them to attend. So a new platform has been in the makings, we’ve just stepped up the process by being forced to stay at home and Zoom everywhere! We are learning what’s working, what isn’t, ways to engage communication and participation in webinars. We have stepped up our simultaneous interpretation game and most (working towards all) of our presentations are translated to Spanish before we present. We are making sure that we are documenting things, recording presentations and making them available to parents who are unable to attend. It’s forced some creativity and thinking that I didn’t think I’d get to until later this year. We’ve invited past parent ambassadors to be our presenters to our current cohort, so that while they are sitting home wondering “what do I need to be doing?” or “what can this program do for me?” they are getting some experiences seeing what parents who have gone through the program are up to.

Speaking of Alumni, we hosted our first Alumni Happy Hour a few weeks ago. An open call for past parent ambassadors to join a call and connect. Season 9 rocked their attendance with the most Alumni from their year representing! As an Alumni myself of this program, I know the sense of security and family that comes with belonging to the PA program. There is something about being a part of this family that is safe, trustworthy and gives a sense of belonging. No matter where I have been in the past, when I’ve found myself in a room with other PA’s, there’s just almost an immediate connection or bond,

no matter the “season” you belong to. During our happy hour call, it was really heartwarming for me to watch the other parents connect with their experiences of being at home with their families during this time. We all come from different backgrounds, spaces, communities, experiences and cohorts, but are able to relate on a level that is hard to understand or replicate. It’s a safe space to share. Whether it’s from job loss, being an “essential employee”, or balancing having your children at home while working from home. We are all struggling. We have children who are struggling with their loss of structure and routine, children who have IEP’s, special needs children whose needs aren’t being met, and finding a new normal. We are parents struggling with our own mental health while trying to not let our children see we are struggling, or all of the above and trying to learn how to be homeschool parents at the same time. From “Season 1” to “Season 11” the amount of support that parent ambassadors offer to each other long after their “year of service” is something that gives me even more energy to power through and make sure this program and the Alumni program come out of COVID even stronger and “essential” to making policy and advocacy more parent focused in all of our worlds.

I had no idea what this position would hold. Where it would lead. I do know all of the expectations and thoughts I had have been completely thrown out the window in the last few months. What remains is even more passion for what has driven me for so long; to make sure that children and families furthest from opportunity are not left out or behind, especially as we navigate a pandemic. Parent Ambassadors will persevere through this pandemic, we are finding a way and will continue to be powerful, dynamic leaders. And we will be really great at Zoom.