Kymara Mary Owusu speaks about her Building Block Foundation program, a system she developed for helping foster kids once they exit state care. Photo by Steve Ide/ONE|NB
PROVIDENCE–Anny Hernandez never expected that helping her boys return to normal school life after the pandemic would be life-changing for her.
The 41-year-old mom from Providence — a 2021-2022 graduate of the Parent Leadership Training Institute — watched as her sons dealt with the stress from the pandemic and racial issues, exacerbated by the murder of George Floyd. She could see a decline in their mental health, and that they were missing the interactions that come from attending school.
“Sometimes kids have a hard time transitioning from home life to school life,” she said, and she noticed that most with her oldest son. “He was having challenges where he wasn’t expressing his emotions and what he was going through. And he’s a great kid, very bright, full of life.” But she was getting calls from school that her son was having a hard time adjusting.
Hernandez, inspired by the boys’ dad who is a Tai Chi master, tried mindfulness meditation. She saw that it worked to help reduce stress and anxiety in her boys.
“With what we’ve seen with the pandemic and Black Lives Matters, I realized that I needed to do more for them. So this is what got me interested in the [PLTI] program.”
PLTI is a free 22-week civic democracy training program run by Community Action Partnership of Providence County (CAPP), the Providence sponsor of a program from the National Parent Leadership Institute. Its intent is to help parents who care become parents who lead. Participants received training in a variety of areas, from thriving with diversity, how the local political systems work, how to harness the power of media, understanding public policy and the law.
As part of their training, each participant was required to create a community project. Nine participants graduated from the program, virtually, on Feb. 17, 2022. As part of their graduation, participants earn college credits.
CAPP received a grant for PLTI from Central Providence Opportunities: A Health Equity Zone, an initiative of ONE Neighborhood Builders. The program ties into ONE|NB’s mission of cultivating healthy, vibrant, and safe communities by empowering residents to become advocates in their communities.
Faith David, PLTI Coordinator Outreach Liaison at CAPP, explained that its purpose is to empower parents.
“It gives them a chance to have their voices heard and to advocate for children,” she explained during a recent Fresh Fridays gathering. She said they provide parents, and some non-parents, in civics, in democracy, and to teach them how to advocate for children and their community.
For Hernandez, taking on a leadership role enabled her to achieve a goal: bringing meditation to the classroom.
“This is something that could be helpful for what I’m trying to do with my life and to be a leader for my kids.”
“This is so up my alley, this is something that I want to do,” she said. “This is something that could be helpful for what I’m trying to do with my life and to be a leader for my kids.”
For Hernandez, who works in the banking industry, realized through PLTI that she was in the wrong field. The program taught her to face her fears over public speaking, and it enabled her to earn college credits. All participants earn credits for College Unbound.
For other program graduates, like Kymara Mary Owusu, advocacy has always been in her DNA.
She and her husband have raised two children and fostered two more, and through PLTI and her belief in God, her foundation of caring has blossomed into a program she calls Building Blocks Foundation.
The nonprofit advocacy organization, which aims to support teens exiting foster care at age 18, is in its infancy. It aims to prevent teens from falling through cracks in the system, how to bank, write resumes, and apply for jobs. It has its roots in Owusu having had two children who she was told were initially developmentally challenged.
Through her advocacy, they have grown to be anything but that.
Her 15-year-old daughter, whom she describes as bold, outgoing, compassionate, and inquisitive, was born premature and eventually labeled developmentally “delayed.” She says her 12-year-old son is bright, shy, loving, and compassionate, but was described by the school systems as “unteachable” and was placed on an Individual Education Plan.
With Owusu’s advocacy, her daughter is in DECA, is in the Junior Honor Society, and is on the merit honor roll. Her son has excelled because she has fought for the school system to recognize how he learns – by doing – and has been on merit honors for more than two years.
Originally is from Brooklyn, New York, Owusu has lived in Rhode Island for 21 years, and now lives in North Providence with her husband.
Since 2020, she has worked at CAPP as Community Service Supervisor, running the food pantry, volunteer program, and Dress for Progress programs, among other tasks. Before that, she spent nearly two decades working in community services and with Family Services RI, where she worked with children who also needed advocacy.
“I always ask God to give me insights, and enlighten me, and tell me ‘what’s my purpose’? And he told me, ‘You know your purpose. Your purpose is to be a voice for the for the voiceless.’”