This is a series of profiles of people making Oakland Smarter and Stronger.
Dawn Edwards, Lotus Bloom
Dawn Edwards has been a dance teacher, a gymnast, a “Know Your Rights” trainer working against police misconduct, a restorative justice circle coordinator, a peer facilitator and Board Vice President at the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, a nonprofit manager and more. In all of her work, she’s seen the power of community support and working together to make everyone’s life better. It was in this spirit that she pitched in to help the principal at Allendale Elementary in Oakland, where her youngest child was a student. And it was through her work at Allendale -- running restorative justice circles and mentoring 5th grade girls -- that Dawn met Angela Louie Howard at Lotus Bloom, one of Oakland Starting Smart and Strong’s key collaborative partners.
Fast forward a few years and Dawn is Director of Program Operations and Citywide Initiatives at Lotus Bloom. She also sits on OSSS’s Lead Planning Team and our Policy and Advocacy Committee.
Part of Dawn’s role at Lotus Bloom is to coordinate the Oakland 0-5 Family Resource Center (FRC) Network -- a growing network of organizations that support families throughout the city. We talked recently with Dawn about her work with the FRC Network and how the pandemic has shaped what the network focuses on.
To you, what defines a Family Resource Center?
It’s a place that fosters and cultivates child development through programs and activities, providing education for parents -- whether a parent cafe or a series of workshops -- and offering playgroups and other opportunities for children and parents to come together. At an FRC, you also have people who provide case management or services to help families navigate challenges they’re facing. Basically it’s a place where families can get support on any aspect of child development, together with other families.
What’s most important about the Family Resource Center Network?
The network was started in 2016 with initial support from Oakland Starting Smart and Strong. In 2018, OSSS helped raise funding from 5 funders to formalize the network. It’s a way for all of the organizations that support families with young children to come together and coordinate efforts, learn from each other, and share best practices. During the pandemic we’ve realized that it’s become a space for those who provide family support services to the community to find peers and in some sense find respite.
What are some of the topics you’ve covered at the FRC Network meetings?
We talk about socio-emotional learning, trauma-informed care, work-life balance. We try to include topics that will benefit each member individually, and also will improve the work they do within their organizations.
The most recent workshop I led was about gender identity. Some of the members said they really wished they had learned about this sooner. And there were some terms that not everyone knew. I’m proud of the network that we all continue to learn together. We are all striving to where we are collectively able to serve more families in a more inclusive way.
How has the pandemic changed what you do?
Right after the pandemic started, we all found that the FRCs were the places that families turn to the most. Everyone was really overwhelmed with the need for diapers, for housing, for food -- basic needs. We immediately started raising funds to support families. Now, we’re working with the FRC Network to raise $250,000 for a Community Needs Fund. Lotus Bloom will hold the funds and they’ll be available to the Network member organizations to support the families they serve. We’re $75,000 away from reaching our goal! We hope to reach it by July 2021.
To donate to the Community Needs Fund, visit the Lotus Bloom website. Contact Dawn for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Thanks to the Packard Foundation, Hellman Foundation, First 5 Alameda County, the Cowell Foundation, and Sunlight Giving for providing funds to formalize the FRC Network in 2018.)