11 Parent Leaders graduate from COFI Phase 2 training

By Stephanie Skordas, Director of Marketing & Communications

Eleven parent leaders have graduated from Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) Phase 2 training. The COFI model makes positive changes in parents’ lives by using their strengths and commitment to their children and their neighborhoods. These Guilford Parent Leader Network (GPLN) members first engaged with the program through COFI Phase 1 last fall.

The COFI model focuses on self, family, community, and policy and systems in the various training levels. Phase 1 focuses on creating supportive parent teams, setting goals, and establishing plans. In Phase 2, the training focuses on creating community-based agendas that start with common concerns parents raise.

“COFI presents a platform for parent leaders to fulfill their desired roles in their respective communities,” said Harrison Spencer, a GPLN member who recently graduated from the COFI Phase 2 training. “In addition, COFI offers key training, resources, services, and compensation for participants and members that may be otherwise overlooked or not offered by other organizations. COFI encourages parents to become involved, engaged, and active leaders.”

COFI uses a “train the trainers” approach to delivering its model to communities like Guilford County. In April, three parent leaders were trained on the Phase 2 model and led the five training sessions for the 11 new graduates over the summer.

“As a recent social work graduate, one of the primary issues I had with the structure was the top-down and lack of autonomy that were/are rampant in our practice, support, and approaches,” Spencer said. “This is where COFI is unique in its approach and geared towards revealing some insight or new perspectives to others.”

According to its website, the COFI way has trained more than 4,724 parents in 44 communities like Guilford County. “About 50 percent of Phase 1 participants go on to Phase 2 within about six months, according to COFI,” said Heather Adams, Ready Ready’s Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. “In November, we had 15 parent leaders graduate from COFI Phase 1, so 93 percent of our graduates have now gone through Phase 2. These parents will be the change they want to see in their communities.”

Adams says additional COFI Phase 1 sessions are in the works. Families with children involved in Early Head Start and Head Start through Guilford Child Development will be trained this fall. Plans are underway for families with children at Falkener Elementary to be the next cohort, and a High Point-focused series will be held in spring 2022.  “This training creates a powerful space for connection,” she said.

Spencer says he would recommend COFI to other parents and caregivers in Guilford County. “COFI not only creates a platform for others but a possibility for additional support and friends that could be considered family and commonalities from the group and organizational bonding.

For more information about the Guilford Parent Leader Network, please contact Heather Adams, Director of Engagement and Literacy Initiatives. Meetings are held on the third Monday of the month from 7-8:30 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings are being held via Zoom.

Partner Spotlight: Greater High Point Food Alliance

The Greater High Point Food Alliance (GHPFA) is a grassroots organization formed to address food insecurity. When it started in 2014, the Greensboro-High Point Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was number two in the nation in food hardship. The following year, it moved to number one. Since that time, it has moved to number 14, according to GHPFA’s website.

“We take a collaborative approach and work with four neighborhoods. We asked them how they would solve food insecurity, and then we work alongside them to help them achieve those goals,” said Carl Vierling, the organization’s executive director. “We work behind the scenes at a higher level to connect resources to each of the groups we work with.”

The High Point neighborhoods working with GHPFA are Burns Hill, Washington Street, Highland Mills, and West End. Representatives from each area are board members, along with a wide variety of community leaders. Recently, the organization held a “Walk to the Store” to demonstrate what it would take for a person in the Highland Mills neighborhood without transportation to walk to the closest store, the Walmart on South Main Street. The route has no sidewalks and crosses Business 85.

“Many of the people that we work with are one car repair bill away from walking,” Vierling explained. “When you have to walk to the store, you have a limit on how much food you can carry, so that means multiple trips each week.”

GHPFA built an app with information about food pantries, backpack programs, community gardens, hot meals, and feeding sites at Guilford County Schools. “The app is location-based, so it will not only show you the food pantry closest to you, but the hours that it is open, and what requirements might be needed,” Vierling said. “We also have emergency assistance, financial assistance, and shelters as resources on the app.”

According to Feeding America, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, food insecurity in the United States was at its lowest rate in more than 20 years. When it measured food insecurity in Guilford County, the overall rate was 13.1 percent in 2019. As a result of the pandemic, the organization projects that number has risen to 15.1 percent in 2021.

Vierling said he’s seeing benefits like the earned income tax credit, expanded child tax payments, and pandemic EBT (P-EBT) making a difference for High Point families, along with the work GHPFA is doing. The organization has work teams that take on the food insecurity issue such as food access, education, nutrition, urban agriculture, seniors, and policy.

Like Ready for School, Ready for Life (Ready Ready), GHPFA focuses on connecting programs, resources, and community members to break down silos and solve problems. “Our work overlaps with Ready Ready and we’re happy to be partners. We recently had some conversations about the work Ready Ready is doing with pediatric offices. It’s so important to recognize the impact of food insecurity on health,” Vierling said. “One of the things I love about Ready Ready is that it’s trying to wrap these services around people, around young children, and get them ready for school and ready for life.”

Vierling says GHPFA’s approach can be summed up in three words: empower, unify, and sustain. “We give people a voice who’ve never had one. We bring people together and give them the tools they need to solve problems,” he said. “We create sustainability through food education, urban agriculture, and leadership programs.”