Leer en español. 

Ana Cordova, a parent of two living in Cicero, watched as her son struggled to read in English. She felt there was no one to help him and took on the responsibility herself.

After helping him learn, her sister-in-law told her about the Cicero Community Collaborative’s Parent Ambassador program, which assigns parents to local elementary schools to help kids with bilingual reading comprehension, among other things. After seeing first-hand the obstacles her son faced, she recognized how many other children inevitably had the same needs, and felt a calling to act.

“I thought, oh my god, I could help more kids! I need to help more kids,” she said. That was only two-and-a-half years ago. Yet in that period of time, Ana has made waves in the program.

This parent-to-child support is invaluable in the Cicero community, where half of residents identify as immigrants. They can face great challenges navigating systems that are inaccessible to non-English speakers.

In a 2016 Needs Assessment Report, studies identified the importance of teaching English in early childhood. Across all academic indicators, Cicero students who have limited English proficiency perform well below expectation and have the lowest graduation rate, at around 50%.

Ana is one of 24 Parent Ambassadors that works across three committees – early childhood, high school, and elementary – to close this gap.

United Way supports this critical program through the Cicero Neighborhood Network because we believe every community should have the resources it needs to help students and families thrive, including strong schools and educational programs. Through our Neighborhood Network Initiative, we invest in programs that empower neighbors to be leaders in their communities.

But parents like Ana drive this work every day. She is one of the lead facilitators of monthly Parent Cafes, an informative presentation for other Cicero parents, focused on a specific subject related to early childhood and how it affects development. Last month’s café was about trauma, and how trauma being present in early childhood can affect a person’s life.

“It’s very important within our Hispanic community because sometimes we don’t know how to ask for these resources, and so we’re unaware of how many resources are actually available,” she said.

Ana began her journey inspired and motivated to help as many kids as possible. What she hadn’t expected is how much she would help herself, too.

Ana had always had a fear of public speaking, particularly in English, her second language. Now, between presenting at Parent Cafes, and speaking in conferences to people from different communities and states about the program – she has conquered that fear, and developed her own professional skills.

“It’s important to note that the parents’ professional growth is transparent. Especially with Ana,” said Yadira Martinez, co-chair of the Early Childhood Committee at CCC. “The conference she spoke at was full of at least 60 people, and she was able to get in front of them and present, talk about her work and what she does.”

And parent ambassadors like Ana haven’t allowed the pandemic to obstruct their mission. The program has shifted to do what they can in this precarious environment, such as holding food distributions and continuing to plan virtual Parent Cafes.

“We don’t have to be just at home thinking about what’s happening,” Ana said. “We can be active, and proactive.”

Ana loves telling her daughter about the work she’s doing. She visibly lights up when she speaks about how proud her daughter is of her, and how proud she is of herself.

“The reason we do what we do for our community is out of love,” Ana said. “And we believe that any bit of love we return to the community is brought back to us.”

You can help neighbors and parents like Ana make change in their communities. Donate to United Way to support our Neighborhood Network Initiative today!


By Tate Samata, AmeriCorps Multimedia Journalist