As a child growing up in Mexico, Sofia Gutierrez was told she wouldn’t need an education beyond elementary school, so she never pursued it. But as she moved through life and became a parent to two curious children, she came to realize education wasn’t frivolous, but a necessity.
Today, Sofia volunteers as a parent ambassador in Cicero, teaching local mothers and fathers this life-changing lesson.
“I think if my father’s mentality was ‘Yes, you’re able to study or further your education,’ I would’ve succeeded or gone further in life. I wish I had that, someone telling me ‘You can do more,’” Sofia said through a translator.
“This is why I focus on [education], in order to tell other community members to push their children and acknowledge that their support means a lot in their child’s life,” she added.
By going door-to-door and visiting the library, parks and other public venues, Sofia and the parent ambassadors work together to share the importance of early education. As a part of the Early Education Committee, they provide other parents with information about opportunities and services available to their kids. Additionally, the mothers host Café Conchas, or parent cafes, each month to connect local parents and teach them about specific topics related to their kids’ safety and academic success.
The Early Education Committee is facilitated through the Cicero Neighborhood Network, a coalition of residents, schools, government leaders, social service providers and other stakeholders who work together to identify and resolve their neighbors’ most pressing needs.
In Cicero, the Network aims to build community schools that serve families’ varying needs and improve academic outcomes for Cicero students. Local moms like Sofia drive this work through their parent engagement and teachings.
“I like the unity of the group. I like that we’re all close together. I feel as though we’re a family,” Sofia said. “We’re all headed towards the same direction — to bring children to programs — and we all have something good to contribute. Together, we can make a difference.”
While she characterizes herself as uneducated, Sofia holds a wealth of knowledge and an exuberant energy for uplifting the children of Cicero. It’s driven by her love for her kids and witnessing the impact pre-K had on her son.
When he was young, he bubbled with energy. Recognizing he needed a productive outlet, someone encouraged her to put him in a free learning program in the neighborhood. It didn’t take long for him to channel his enthusiasm and find a love of learning.
Today, he and his sister have both earned high-school scholarships, and Sofia has a sense of purpose passing on these lessons to other parents.
“It makes me feel strong,” Sofia said of the work. “Helping the kids, that’s what helps me grow.”