Equity Work that Matters Spotlight: Unlimited Potential

Unlimited Potential

Unlimited Potential is a small family center in South Phoenix that for 27 years has been educating and empowering economically challenged, undereducated families. Currently most of the parents and children they work with are first and second generation Mexican immigrants. Towards this end they provide an array of services including English as a second language (ESL) classes, GED classes, an early childhood program, a home visitation program, and parent leaderships groups. The empowerment perspective is central to everything they do as they try to ensure that families are personally, interpersonally and politically empowered. Unlimited Potential uses a popular education approach that builds on the culture and wisdom of participants. Daily, group members share their experiences, dialogue and reflect on what is happening in the world around them and on how they can participate in creating more just environments for themselves and for the next generation.

There is an abundance of outcomes that demonstrate the impact of Unlimited Potential on the lives of the families involved. For example, in the ESL classes participants annually complete pre- and post-surveys. Assessments completed by participants last year revealed significant gains in their ability to read, write, speak, and understand English. Participants reported significant gains in their ability to help their children with homework and to communicate across multiple settings such as with children’s teachers, doctors, and employers. In addition to advancing their English literacy skills, participants’ sense of empowerment (belief in their ability to advocate for self, address problems and achieve goals) significantly increased from the beginning to the end of the program. The early childhood development program also demonstrates wonderful impacts as children are leaving the program with the skills they need to begin kindergarten ready to succeed. Children in the preschool classroom are evaluated at the beginning and end of the program. Pre/post data revealed they progressed in their motor, socio-emotional, cognitive, and linguistic development and in their approaches to learning. Scores in all areas reflect significant gains. Parents too reported acquiring the knowledge to promote their children’s development and learning.

Unlimited Potential’s GED program too has demonstrated remarkable outcomes. This year they expanded the program to meet the needs of the many DREAMers who needed to obtain their GED as they sought to apply for deferred action. So far this fiscal year, 32 students have obtained their general equivalency diplomas and several more need to pass only one more section to receive their diploma. As participants pick up their diplomas and they receive their identification and permission to work legally in the U.S., it is inspiring to hear their dreams for the future. After years of not being able to return to school because they did not have proper documentation, these young adults once again feel hopeful about their future and they share wanting to become lawyers, nurses, and pursue other such careers.

Another powerful program at the center that has demonstrated remarkable impacts is the Promotora program. Promotoras go out into the community and deliver educational workshops on health, mental health, and substance abuse prevention to other women in the community. They have initiated a walking group to promote physical activity and to promote social bonding. Also, they have started a small garden at the center which they call “Grandmother’s Garden.” They are growing herbs and vegetables and they encourage their peers to return to indigenous healthy ways of eating. It’s amazing to see how these women who discovered their voice can no longer be silenced.

Unlimited Potential shares with you one participant’s testimony that reflects how her participation in multiple programs at the center changed her life and that of her family: “Ever since I entered Unlimited Potential the impact on my family has been great. I learned how to treat my children, how to be involved in their education and my husband says, ‘Wow you have learned a lot!’ Now I communicate for myself in Spanish and English. Women who I met a few years ago ask me, ‘How did you learn so much English? When we first met, you did not speak English.’ They are inspired and they too want to learn for the same reason I did, to help my children get a good education. I got my GED and I am now taking college classes. My husband is working on his GED because he saw my example. He says, ‘It will be hard, do you think I can do it?’ I say, yes you can. We support each other. I talk to him about my Promotora presentations and we talk more now. My children say, ‘Are you going to school now mom?’ And when I am studying my son sits there and also studies. Now I can do many things that I thought I could never do. I have confidence in myself. Before, I did not believe in myself. I had limits. I know I can do whatever I want. I know that I can help others. Now I am a powerful woman!”

There is daily witness of the consciousness raising that occurs at the center. Participants enhance their competencies, feel affirmed and a sense of efficacy emerges, and participants are inspired to become civically engaged. Participants are personally empowered through our ESL classes as they learn to read, write and speak English. While learning English, they acquire life skills that assist them in negotiating their environment, in securing employment, pursuing educational goals and in supporting the academic success of their children. They learn financial literacy, how to use public transportation, they obtain library cards and learn about the importance of reading with their children. Parents often increase their literacy and learn to read the world as well by reading the newspaper and dialoguing about their observations. On one occasion, they read about HB 2281 that would ban ethnic studies in Arizona. Parents reflected on why there is a Latino education gap, why people would want to stop ethnic studies, and how this connects to their lives. United in their conviction that children need to develop a positive ethnic identity, they wrote letters to the publishers of many of the books that were banned in Tucson and requested copies of the books. They rallied to create a library at the center filled with literature they can use to teach their children their history. This story reflects how participants are acquiring news skills while their consciousness is raised and they are inspired to act. This reflects everything Unlimited Potential strives to achieve at the center.

Lorraine Moya-Salas has had the good fortune of serving as the Executive Director at Unlimited Potential for 4 years and during this time her goal has been to fully approximate the agency mission of creating active and healthy communities by educating and empowering families. For more information about Unlimited Potential contact Lorraine at lmoyasalas@upaz.org. Also visit their website at: http://www.upaz.org/