Three years ago, licensed marriage and family therapist and certified family life educator Ana Morante helped establish a resource that ensures the health and stability of the families and children of the Gilroy community: Resilient Families Gilroy—Familias Resilientes Gilroy.
The program teaches the safe, secure and loved (SSL) curriculum and promotes intergenerational healing, family wellbeing and resilience.
“Safe, secure and love are the main principles of healthy secure attachment, which is the number one predictor of a person’s well-being, physical and mental,” Morante said.
Morante discovered Resilient Families through her association with Sacred Heart in San Jose where Dr. Barbara Burns, professor of Child Studies at Santa Clara University, founded the program. To make this resource a reality for Gilroy, which according to the Department of Family and Children Services has the highest number of referrals for child abuse and neglect, Morante reached out to St. Mary’s Catholic Church and arranged a meeting with Father Robert Brocato and Burns.
“The initial conversations happened in January or February 2017, and the first class was offered in October,” Morante explained, adding that a dozen mothers attended the first class.
“I was excited to see the response, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen because at the time, nobody in the community knew about it,” Morante said.
The main component of the program is the community-led six-week class for parents with children ages 0 to 3. This class offers information and skills to support sensitive parent-child attachment by stressing six key factors: emotional presence, stress management, self-care, compassionate listening, brain development and dealing with change within the family.
Graduates of the class are encouraged to volunteer to serve in the role of promoters (promotoras), who are trained in the SSL curriculum and lead the class.
Gilroy resident Juana Martinez has been involved in the program since it first began.
“So I said, this is for me…because I always said if I become a mother, I want to be a good mom,” Martinez said.
After attending the first class, Martinez realized how important it was to be the role model for her child.
“For me, the important person was my husband, he was going to be the role model, that’s the way it was when I was growing up in Mexico,” Martinez said. “So it was shocking to me when I realized how important a mom is. I always say I’m grateful to Resilient Families because I am very different now. I think after the second class, we were like family. A family that can understand me, my feelings, my worries and my challenges.”
She was so impressed with the program she volunteered to become a promoter, and taught her first class in 2018.
“I always say that I am a promotora, but I am not teaching, we share with other mothers,” Martinez said. “We share experience, we laugh, we cry, and then everyone has something to teach, so I’ve been learning a lot.”
In March, when the shelter-in-place order went into effect, Morante was determined to find a way to continue the program because she knew it had become a vital part of her participants’ lives.
“It has been a brand new experience for all of them,” Morante said. “Some of our promotoras were comfortable with technology and some were not, so we had to really teach them basically how to open a computer, open a window, and how to conduct a Zoom meeting. All this stuff. That’s been a challenge we’ve been working through.”
“The promotoras have been amazing and putting a lot of time and energy into learning so we can do classes online,” Morante said, adding that some of the parents also needed help with the technology.
Moving the program online allowed Morante to offer classes several times a week, instead of the once a week in-person classes.
“We are able to offer different days and different times so we’re able to reach more people,” Morante said.
There was one more advantage resulting from the move to online classes.
“Since the DFCS is paying for the program it was limited to certain zip codes before the pandemic,” Morante said. “Here in South County we could only pick parents from 95020. Now that the classes are held virtually, the program is available to all Santa Clara County parents.”
Research conducted by the DFCS confirms Morante’s belief that the program provides mothers with the tools needed to develop a healthy attachment with their children.
“And prevents these families from going through the system,” Morante added.
Faculty member for the child development and educational studies program at Gavilan College, Claire Boss, was already a fan of the Resilient Families program after learning about it from her student, a past participant. So when Boss had the opportunity to collaborate with Morante in April of this year, she was all in.
“We started talking about the project and how my students could get involved,” Boss said.
Morante shared with Boss her hope to document the participants reactions to the program and share their testimonials on the Resilient Families Gilroy website.
“We discussed the idea that interviewing those who are actually engaged in the process, it helps to know the successes of the program and that information is really helpful especially for the future of the program,” Boss said.
Boss feels her student volunteers, who recorded parent testimonials, benefited as much from the experience as the parents who shared their stories.
“They themselves felt such privilege that the mothers were so entrusting to share their stories,” Boss said, adding, she too feels lucky to be able to help support the program and having the opportunity to meet and work with Ana.
“It’s so intentional, her work, and then when you hear these stories, you hear just how valuable this program is to mothers and to fathers, and to the community,” Boss said.