Residents get a dose of community activism


When Edith Marybel Enriquez noticed a family in her Alexandria community that was struggling with issues of truancy, teen pregnancy and idle hands, she looked back on her training with the Parent Leadership Training Institute for guidance.

In those classes, she learned about community activism and materials that are available with the city and she now acts as a mentor for the family. Im helping them get the services through the city, Enriquez said. The same way they coached me, Im trying to do the same, with this family, she said.

The Parent Leadership Training Institute of Alexandria is a program that provides instruction to city residents on topics dealing with the community and government structure and related functions such as leadership and advocacy skills. Each session is divided into 20 classes that meet over several months and deal with city processes, school board, public policy, budget and laws. Enriquez was among 17 parents in the first graduating class of the program that commenced on May 11.

Kimberly Neill was another graduate of that class with an interest in getting something done in Alexandria. Neills daughter goes to Hammond Middle School and Neill wanted to find out how things are done that affect school decisions. I would love to get involved with more school board issues, she said.

One thing that Neill did start was a parents group in Seminary Towers where she lives. The parents group started in March and now Neill creates their official newsletter. She also routinely checks the city websites to stay on top of issues. The class has really made a difference, she said.

How it started
Fay Slotnick has been active with the program since the beginning and is now the coordinator, operating partly out of a space in the Hopkins House and partly out of an office in her home. Slotnick was the aide to former City Council member Joyce Woodson, who was a big supporter of the program as well.

Funding for the program comes partly from the city and an office space was donated from the Hopkins House, said Slotnick. They have applied for a partnership grant from the Alexandria Department of Human Services. Several private companies in the area have donated to the program as well.

One of the goals in the program is finding your voice and what you can do to make a difference, Slotnick said. For Enriquez, finding a voice and gaining confidence was a big part of her experience and she  recently spoke up in a civic meeting with a state representative, asking for specific information. I was not able to do that before the class, Enriquez said.

The training doesnt just stop when the parents children leave school, said Slotnick. Some of these people are interested in advocating even for children that are not their own, she said. That is the case for Enriquez. While her son is an upcoming senior at T.C. Williams, she is also looking at programs that address teen pregnancy, gangs and summer activities. Enriquez has compiled a chart of summer programs the city offers, along with contact information. Im not just doing it for my son, Im doing it for everyone, she said.