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'The Missing Link'

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Roberta is a rainmaker. She is a parent who represents the many other low-income immigrant parents who are served by an urban Florida school community. Roberta's experience as a parent and a mother of several children helps her provide services and solve community and school problems. Rain stands for Referral And ZV)mation Network.

Roberta assists teachers in classrooms. She teaches children proper decorum in the cafeteria. She helps organize a lice-buster group, a homework club, an absenteeism outreach strategy, a job club.

She may even take on city hall by demanding greater representation for poor, Hispanic, and immigrant families. For this work, she receives a small stipend.

In the past year, Roberta and a dozen or so other rainmakers have helped more than 400 families, delivering services out of the parent-resource center at the school.

The leadership provided by Roberta and other parents is the missing link that has made not only the school but other community systems more effective.

Through rainmaker, Roberta is one of a growing number of parents who are changing the future outcomes of children in their communities because her expertise is being harnessed by teachers and other helping professionals. As she becomes a helper, her own situation improves as well.

Schools and other institutions have long sought ways to intensify the role of parents as partners in the design and delivery of education and related services. The rainmaker model serves as an effective strategy for parent empowerment and improved school-community relations.

It also addresses the fact that there will never be enough teachers, social workers, nurses, and social-service personnel to fill the "prevention gap." Despite the good intentions of schools, social-service and health-care workers, and the legal system, the bulk of each child's education, counseling, health care, and norm enforcement comes from families.

Roberta and her peers may know best what hurts and what helps. Until they became rainmakers, no one had ever asked them what they could do to improve outcomes for their children in the school and in the community.

When their opinions were sought, they cited as a major obstacle the sense of maltreatment and hostility parents and children often feel when dealing with schools, social services, the health-care system, and the police.

When parents fail they are often punished, yet unlike the professionals who also do this work, they receive no formal training, no salary, and no supervision.

Now, a "bill of rights" and mission statements adopted by the schools and service agencies in Roberta's community create a new sense of consumer accountability and a new force for problem-solving.

The rainmaker momentum, along with the school's commitment to improved outcomes for children, has paid off. Test scores have doubled, and police sweeps of children absent from school have ended.

Parents roam the halls, battling graffiti to a minimum. Behavioral disturbances have diminished and homework and classroom performance have improved. Roberta may open a child-care center with other rainmakers who have completed the program's adult basic-education course.

Instead of being marginalized by the systems so vital to her family, she and other parents are now the motivators and mobilizers of others who feel disen-franchised.

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