Families finding life support

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 7/6/2011, 5 p.m.

Mitchell recently filed for child support.

"He thinks I should let him by, but it's difficult when you're all by yourself," she said, but then remembered her parents and friends and other supporters who've been helping. It has really been a time of growth for her as well as Bentley.

"I used to be quiet and shy, but parenthood is kinda different," Mitchell said. "Since I've been through so much, now I'm open to get advice, talk with friends, hang out, and get things off of my chest that have been (held) in for so long."

Mother and child have received assistance through the L.A. County Greater Avenues for Independence (GAIN) program, which covers day care, and other childhood needs. Mitchell has also received counseling.

"The first two weeks were the hardest," she said. "For all the single mothers, just be strong. If I can do it, you can do it. It takes time, it's not overnight. Any assistance you can get, get it 'cause it's going to help.

"For me, I needed friends," Mitchell said. "My mom and dad really came through. You learn who your real friends are."

One of the other support organizations for the Black family is First 5. A public entity funded by California tobacco tax dollars, helps fund L.A. County community organizations whose efforts, initiatives and programs are aimed at improving the educational outcomes of children during their first five years.

"Best Start is the name of the place-based initiative that we are funding," Melissa Franklin of First 5 said. "We have identified 14 communities across Los Angeles County that are all high-stressed communities where services are needed. By investing in them we know we will really see some change, some improvement in children's outcomes."

Best Start plans to fund things in a coordinated way, with the idea that it is the community itself that will drive the decisions on which programs and services can help.

"We just finished our first year of funding," Franklin said. "It was essentially a planning year, where we have done significant outreach to parents, community residents, key stakeholders, community-based organizations (CBOs) and businesses. They have been attending meetings every three to four weeks and we've had from 25 to 150 people per meeting."

The community partnership will be the decision-makers," she said. "They will decide where we spend the dollars."

"We've been going to places where parents are--schools, preschools resource centers, we've even been organizing some play dates," Amy Williams-Banfield, program officer of Best Start communities said.

"Parents want to develop safe places for their children to play and we give them ideas on things they can do centered around families," Williams-Banfield said. "Exercise obstacle courses, creating healthy snacks--they get it."

One of the recent, successful play dates was held in Helen Keller Park, where more than 200 persons participated in activities centered on the four guiding goals of the initiative:

* Children should be born at a healthy weight

* Children should maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle