When Parents Lead, Kids Succeed

Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2018

It wasn’t that long ago that Lam Hoang felt isolated and alone. Lam moved to Multnomah County ten years ago from her home in Vietnam. She joined her husband, who had been living here since 1995. Lam didn’t have any friends or family and knew only a few people in the Vietnamese community.

After the birth of her first child, Lam’s loneliness grew and she became depressed. Fortunately, a friend told her about the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), a United Way nonprofit partner, and suggested they might be able to help. Soon after, Lam was working with a parent educator through Parent Child Development Services (PCDS) who connected her to the support she needed. Shortly after, her family was participating in Habitat for Humanity’s program to build their own house in Gresham.

Today, Lam and her husband have three children—an eight‐year‐old boy, and two girls, ages six and three. IRCO helped her build confidence and hone her leadership skills so she could advocate for herself and her children in a system that’s not set up to help immigrants like her to succeed. 

She put these skills to use navigating the complicated process of preschool enrollment and waiting lists, learning about the array of elementary school options and communicating with teachers and administrators along the way. “Parents have a lot of hopes and dreams for their kids,” Lam said, “And they also hold a lot of life experiences and information that can help to improve the community and schools that their kids are a part of.”  

Lam’s experience and leadership made her an ideal candidate for the Parent Accountability Council (PAC), a governing council for United Way’s Early Learning Multnomah initiative. The initiative addresses the biases and barriers children of color face to ensure they have every opportunity to thrive in kindergarten and beyond. 

“Parents have a lot of hopes and dreams for their kids. They also hold a lot of life experiences and information that can help to improve the community and schools that their kids are a part of.”  

The PAC creates an intentional venue for parent voice – a key component in helping kids succeed in school. Parents from African American, African immigrant, Asian, Latino, Native American and Slavic communities make up the 12 member council. Together, the council guides our early learning work, ensuring we’re meeting the real needs of children and families. 

“At PAC, parents can say what they think and feel confident that their voice will be heard and that their ideas will help more kids and families to have access to good, quality preschools that will support a child’s learning and growth,” said Lam. 

This year, Lam also began serving as one of five PAC representatives on the Oversight Council, the body in charge of ensuring our initiative meets its state‐funded requirements and outcomes. The Oversight Council will create more accountability and even stronger parent insight into our early learning investments.

The PAC is just one example of how United Way is engaging parents, like Lam, to get better results and truly support kids from their earliest learning experiences. 

Later this month members of the Parent Accountability Council will be gathering to celebrate accomplishments from the year including: 

  • Conducting a letter-writing campaign to key leaders in the State Legislature to advocate for increased investment in early childhood care and education. 
  • Working directly with leaders across sectors – city, county, health, housing, K-12 education, DHS and business – to regularly inform strategies that impact kids and families. 
  • Hosting Impact NW’s newly formed parent council to help them kick start their work, which was inspired by the PAC.
  • Supporting the launch of a Multnomah County chapter of the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI), with a PAC member in leadership.
  • Informing changes to the region’s “Kindergarten Sign up” campaign materials and strategies to better improve community engagement and reach more families. 


Click here to learn more about our early learning investments and the Parent Accountability Council.

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