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The June 22 graduation of the 48 pre-schoolers at South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project Inc. (LAMP) was both a sign of the organization’s growth and a milestone for the children’s families, as they adapt to a new way of life in the United States and learn to navigate in an educational system unknown to them.

“This is huge, I don’t even have words to explain how huge this is for me,” Maria Placencia, mother of 5-year-old graduate Fatima Rodriguez, told The Tidings. “I waited a year on a waiting list, and when they called me I told myself, ‘I won’t waste this opportunity because this is way too important for me.'”

The 32-year-old mother of three said she did not mind waiting a whole year until she could enroll in LAMP’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the same time that her two younger children were benefitting from the organization’s programs. “While they teach me English, they also educate my children,” said Placencia.

“This is a double promotion, for the children and their parents,” said Holy Name of Jesus and Mary Sister Daleen Larkin, principal of St. Andrew School in Pasadena, who has participated in the LAMP program.

Addressing the nearly 100 people attending the ceremony at the hall of South Central L.A.’s Victory Baptist Church, LAMP’s executive director Adriana De La Rosa congratulated the parents for “making sure that their children could take this first step in their educational journey.”

De La Rosa told the mostly working-class Latino families that LAMP is not just a pre-school, but a community organization “that helps children become stronger by making sure that their parents stay involved in their lives and education, and support them in their goals for a successful future.”

She reminded them that love and compassion are key factors for a non-violent education at home, and she congratulated the parents — most of them involved in the organization’s Family Literacy Program — for making an effort to learn English in order to improve their communication with their children and for participating in their formal education.

“Through your love you are giving them the future they deserve,” she told the attentive audience.

Keynote speaker Liz Guerra, member of the Family Literacy Support Network, became emotional when telling the families they mirrored her own experience.

“I started speaking Spanish first and then went to school and learned English and now I don’t practice Spanish that much,” she said in Spanish. “You are very fortunate to be part of the family of LAMP, which is growing and continues to make its mark in this community.”

A safe place
LAMP is seen by its leaders as a safe hub for the community it serves: a large percentage of low-income immigrant families and a fewer number of low-income African Americans trying to make ends meet in an economically-challenged environment.

The non-profit organization was initially founded 18 years ago as a ministry by eight congregations of women religious: Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Sisters of the Holy Family, Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of St. Louis, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and Daughters of Charity. Since its inception, LAMP has kept its goals of strengthening families and empowering women — “the first teachers in the homes” — through education.

LAMP gives the opportunity to stay-at-home moms to attend ESL classes and to learn how to navigate the education and health systems, while their young children are being taught by licensed and dedicated professionals — some of them are LAMP’s alumnae — in adjacent infant, toddler and pre-school rooms.

Through the parenting program, parents are equipped with the tools to develop non-violent parenting skills.

“Mothers and children are being served together through wonderful programs and one has influence on the other, which is strengthening families and that’s the core of LAMP’s mission,” said Society of the Holy Child Jesus Sister Margaret Doyle, president of the board of directors.

Word of mouth has been the best marketing tool. As their services are sought by more people and as the community needs grow, LAMP’s leaders envision including more services and improving the existing, efforts that are challenged by the current economic times.

“LAMP is at a moment of great growth and we can see it today, but as the needs increase there are challenges in its financial situation,” said Religious Sister of the Sacred Heart of Mary Patricia Connor. “We are enormously grateful to individuals and foundations that have supported and believe in us, and we pray they will continue to believe and support.”

The programs are financed through a combination of public funds and the religious communities funds, but funding LAMP’s operations (including salaries) has been the great challenge over the years, the sisters said.

A grant for the family literacy program was recently expanded for another year, which gives LAMP “an opportunity for a smoother transition,” director De La Rosa told The Tidings. The board of directors will have to figure out how to keep the program running when the grant ends in a year.

Just recently, First 5 L.A. granted the non-profit a $150,000 capacity-building grant that will allow hiring more personnel and finalize the early childhood education program licensing process.

“We are looking into opportunities of collaboration to help build this neighborhood and this thriving community,” Pamela Huntoon, educational issues director in the office of Councilwoman Jan Perry, told The Tidings during the pre-schoolers’ graduation. She acknowledged the great role played by LAMP in the area’s development.

‘LAMP cannot fail’
Despite the financial challenges, De La Rosa remains optimistic.

“LAMP cannot fail because there are so many people that worry about its mission,” she told The Tidings. “The work and the people is what makes it, and we have some amazing people here,” she continued.

She believes in the development of the less fortunate communities through a closer connection with wealthier L.A.

“We all belong to L.A. and L.A. belongs to us,” she said. “It is a metropolitan center, a center of business for California, a center of culture, a center of politics, so we have to realize the importance of having all of us play a role in building that gem that we have in the city.

“In this side of town people don’t really get to enjoy a lot of the other areas of town. Or, the other folks that have the money living in a different area of town have no reason to come here. How can we connect them, how can we integrate them, how can we all share and transform and improve this wonderful cultural center that we already have?”

“This is what LAMP is doing,” she said. “We are building in this cultural richness, by bringing the community together, by educating the community, by helping them educate themselves and educate their children and thus they are enriching this part of town.”

For more information about South Central LAMP, visit http://www.southcentrallamp.org or call (323) 234-1471.

South Central LAMP is a Sponsored Ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Fmaily