By Kearstin Brown-Warren, Parent/Family Partner

Children are immensely intuitive little sponges. They watch you when you’re not looking, make surprisingly wise remarks when you least expect, and imitate what they see you do out of admiration, or perhaps, intrigue. Just when you’re wondering if they ever pay attention to anything you say or do, you realize just how much they’ve studied you. They can even be constructively critical of you, or maybe they offer quite mature and sage advice. All this because you’ve modeled it. I hope I have so for my boys. My hope is that they see my compassion for others born out of my own challenges and accomplishments in life. I pray they follow.

During the pandemic, I lost all my job contracts. I sank deeper into a rut with each email I opened canceling my hopes of going back to work. I remember settling down at home to watch Broadway’s Hamilton on television and bursting into tears. I thought about my colleagues who not only lost all their hopes of future employment, but they were also sick and dying due to circumstances that plague many performing artists who struggle to make a living wage in our country. And here we were entertained, watching what was left of the performing arts industry take a devastating turn from the warm comfort of our cozy living rooms.

Well, at least I had all the time in the world to hold my children, help them with schoolwork, play games with them, and hike/bike trails when we just needed a break away from Screen Academy. For a moment in time, I had their full, undivided attention. What would I do with that rare opportunity?

Looking back on 2020 and 2021, I realize that the cornerstone of my work as a parent leader was grounded in the pain of loss and in disappointment. What grew out of that was immense gratitude for my life and a longing to make living better if not for me, then for someone else. Or perhaps, for many.

Fast-forwarding to 2022, I found myself amid the most gratifying stage in my performing career than any other year. Greater opportunities were presented to me that took me away from Rochester and my calendar began filling up. My time at home was more precious than ever and I knew that I needed to be as impactful with my work as a parent leader as possible. Where do I focus my attention and which organization would value my input most? Without a doubt, I decided to focus my energy on the systems change work efforts of ROC the Future Alliance (RTFA).

My parent leadership journey with RTFA began with the Parent Engagement Collaborative Action Network (PECAN). I continue to serve as a PECAN parent leader and am now a Family/Parent Partner with RTFA’s Whole Child Initiative (WCI). PECAN parent leaders come together at least twice a month to inform systems-level change for improvements in cradle-to-career outcomes. The Whole Child Initiative seeks to improve physical and social-emotional health, education, and human service outcomes for children and their families, prenatal through age 8. These two-offer fertile ground for parent voice to be prioritized and appreciated. ROC the Future’s initiatives truly uplift parents’ voices and literally place value on that uplifted voice. PECAN and WCI center families by bringing them to the table as experts with agenda-setting and decision-making power alongside those with titles. Their model motivates parents to action and results.

Almost every Tuesday and Friday morning and a few Thursday and Wednesday evenings each month, I participate Zoom in meetings with other parent leaders to help chart the future of change for our Rochester City children. Some mornings before my kids go to school, they ask, “Do you have that parent meeting today?” They also know that when mommy closes the office door with her computer after dinner, she’s plotting a better future for them and their schoolmates. They don’t seem to mind. Perhaps they trust I’ll make good decisions regarding our city’s children, despite their opposition to some of the decisions I make for them at home. Maybe they’ll actually respect me for taking time to organize with other parent leaders when I could otherwise be spending time with them. What if they admire me enough to want to mirror what I do someday?

I’m not sure what the future holds for my boys, but I am proud to say that I see the fruits of my service in their desires to be helpful at school, compassionate with friends and strangers, and ready to speak truth to power in the halls of our local government. They care enough to rally their own peers to be the change they seek by setting examples and bringing their friends together for various causes. I hope they see, as I do, that their activism is necessary and effective. They can and do make a difference.

I will continue to model working for the greater good of our Rochester neighbors as a parent leader because children should be seen and heard, imitating the best of what they see and hear us do.