Petra Hernandez has an unrelenting drive to get involved. When she’s not volunteering at church, or her daughters’ school, she’s at Latino Network running classes and workshops for fellow parents. With that kind of passion for community, it’s no surprise that she has been an integral part of Early Learning Multnomah’s Parent Accountability Council (PAC) for almost four years.
Petra’s path to the PAC started a decade ago, when her oldest daughter was a toddler. A recent immigrant to the U.S. from Mexico, she began taking her daughter to the local library to read and play, participate in free classes and connect with other parents. It didn’t take long before she was volunteering there, helping with Día de los Niños festivities and more.
Since then, Petra has done everything she can to expand her opportunities by getting engaged—but it hasn’t always been an easy path.
“I want to get involved in programs because that’s what I like to do,” Petra said. “But sometimes there is a barrier and you can’t move forward. You get stuck.”
She hit a barrier when registering her daughters, now 9 and 12, for Head Start preschool programs. Each time, she was put on the waiting list. But because she knew how important preschool was—and that the expense of private preschool was out of reach—she continued taking her girls to the local library as much as possible. With a little luck and some help from social workers, they were finally accepted into the program.
Another, more recent challenge has been the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment nationwide. Petra says her daughters are bringing home lower grades than usual, and their self-esteem has plummeted.
“I tell my daughters I’m glad they were born here, but to not forget where they come from,” Petra said. “Don’t be ashamed. Still speak Spanish. They can do something for this country and the entire world.”
For Petra, the PAC is a place to share concerns about the barriers families like hers face. It’s a place to offer her opinion and ultimately make a change for her daughters and other children across the county.
“As parents, our personal opinion is very important because we are an example for our children, and they are the future of this country,” Petra said. “Sometimes, as an immigrant, you are afraid to say what you need. But thanks to the PAC, I feel very comfortable. We are not here to get in trouble, but to help. I can give my opinion and help my community. I feel more confident that, all together, we can do something.”
As a member of both the PAC and Oversight Council, Petra is driving the early learning system to better meet the needs of real families. Just as important: Petra feels like she belongs.
“The PAC is like another family because you feel welcome no matter where you come from or who you are. They always welcome you with a big smile and open arms.”
Through that sense of belonging, Petra’s leadership continues to grow. In fact, this fall, she is one of only three parents nominated to join the Preschool for All Task Force, a cross-sector group that will make recommendations for how Multnomah County can expand preschool options for kids and families.