Best Start Central Long Beach, a network made up of parents, caregivers, community members, organizations and city leaders, is in search of its next leadership team cohort ahead of its July elections, and the application process is open to the entire community.
Best Start Central Long Beach was launched through First 5 LA, an organization that uses Proposition 10 tobacco tax funds to support children in their first five years of life.
Over the past few years, Best Start Central Long Beach has supported numerous community initiatives meant to uplift children and families, including mental health courses in languages such as Spanish and Khmer, support directed toward Long Beach’s Black community, social media safety education for parents and a project assisting at-home childcare providers with becoming licensed.
Earlier this month, the network awarded $182,000 to four community groups that support young children and families.
Its projects and initiatives have been determined by participatory budgeting, a process involving sourcing ideas directly from the community, which are then voted upon by Best Start members, said Long Beach Forward executive director James Suazo.
The upcoming leadership team will also be decided through voting during the network’s upcoming partnership meeting in late July.
With a particular emphasis on early childhood efforts, Best Start’s initiatives align with its community change agenda, which focuses on four priorities: building community knowledge on child development and parenting skills; preventing child abuse and neglect; increasing access to quality and affordable child care; and increasing access to quality and affordable housing and economic security.
Each goal was identified through community outreach and speaking with parents and caregivers about the largest challenges they face, Suazo said.
“All the priorities that the community members have identified and want to work on are really big. They’re really systemic,” Suazo said. “And I think it speaks to the idea that this effort is long-term—it doesn’t happen in a month or even a year, if we’re going to try and work towards affordable child care or housing or early childhood development.”
Not only is it a long-term effort, but everybody plays a role, Suazo said.
“Best Start Central Long Beach is all about bringing together the parents who have infant children, caregivers who are directly impacted, but also the organizations who are working on different pieces, and it’s all about coming together to work collectively towards our shared goals,” Suazo said.
At last count, about 300 individuals are part of the network, said Suazo. Since restarting its in-person bimonthly partnership meetings earlier this year for the first time since prior to the pandemic, about 100 people have been in attendance at each one.
“I think there’s a real hunger for connection, but also working to improve what’s happening in the community,” Suazo said.
The leadership team is made up of 21 individuals—primarily parents and Long Beach residents who “have a deep desire to represent the needs of their neighborhood and school communities,” with a smaller number of seats reserved for representatives of community organizations, ensuring that the work remains truly community-led, Suazo explained.
The leadership team meets on a monthly basis (dinner, child care, interpretation and a stipend are provided, according to the Best Start Central Long Beach website) and participates in various community and outreach events throughout each month to encourage other parents and caregivers to get involved, Suazo said. They are also involved in moving the community change agenda forward by participating in the organization’s various projects, he said.
“They’re really meant to be guides and support for all the ways that community members can get involved in actual social change efforts,” Suazo said.
For anyone who’s passionate about improving the lives of children under the age of 5 and their families, working on long-term social change and community involvement, becoming part of the leadership team is a great opportunity, said Suazo, noting that Best Start Central Long Beach is an intentional multi-racial, multi-ethnic effort, and its meetings are held in English, Khmer and Spanish.
For many parents of young children in Central Long Beach, there are huge challenges, particularly access to basic needs such as food and housing, Suazo said.
“Even though we’re at this point in the pandemic, where our local government and a lot of our systems have declared COVID over, and we’re ending all of these different protections, we’re still seeing the need in the community,” Suazo said.
To combat these challenges, it really takes a community-wide effort to step up and offer support, he said.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for us to really show the power of coming together,” Suazo said. “I think it really takes all of us, from all the different pockets of the community, different organizations—Best Start Central Long Beach is about working with our local decision makers as well. It’s really about building those relationships to make sure that we can actually support one another in the community.”
To learn more about Best Start Central Long Beach, join virtual information sessions hosted by Long Beach Forward on Monday, June 26, and Wednesday, June 28, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30. RSVP here.