16 Mar, 2023
Lotus Bloom, a network of family service centers in Oakland, grew out of a children’s playgroup in the San Antonio neighborhood over 15 years ago. With the understanding of the important role early childhood education plays in children’s lives, and the absence of Head Start programs and quality childcare in the area, the founders of Lotus Bloom (then known as Oakland Ready to Learn) established the grassroots playgroup at a brick and mortar. Since then, it’s evolved and grown into multiple family resource centers, offering programs to meet the needs of families in the community. Children ages 0-5 and their parents and caregivers learn, play, gain confidence, and find connections to other parents, health resources, and education resources. Lotus Bloom has family resource centers located in East Oakland, Parkside, and Downtown Oakland and currently has an ongoing capital campaign to support the opening of a new center. We had the opportunity to learn more about Lotus Bloom through a conversation with Rha Bowden, Director of Community Initiatives, and Dawn Edwards, Director of Programming.
Lotus Bloom was created for the community, by the community. Families value the programming and sense of connection, with many choosing to return to the organization as team members! Former parent participants are crucial to Lotus Bloom’s effectiveness and currently make up 100% of teachers and Family Navigators, and 70-75% of the organization’s current staff members. Rha is actually one of these former parent participants. He first learned of Lotus Bloom when he brought his son to the playgroup over 10 years ago. When asked about what motivates him to continue working with Lotus Bloom, Rha says clearly, “it’s the kids, the families, and the connections that bring me to work every day.” Dawn was introduced to Lotus Bloom through her work with Allendale Elementary School as the Community Schools Manager. After she learned about the organization’s program, Dawn began supporting Lotus Bloom projects, eventually taking on a full-time role. She most recently managed the organization’s Rapid Response Fund. Dawn shared that seeing the direct impact of financial assistance to families, and creating connections with those families are what motivates her, “what brings me back and grounds me is when you espouse to be about community, and then you actually live that and walk it.” Lotus Bloom is run by incredibly passionate and talented leaders that are embedded in the community which they serve. Having deep direct connections enables them to effectively serve families.
We asked Rha and Dawn that if Lotus Bloom could have wishes granted today, what would they wish? They responded:
As Lotus Bloom thinks about the future, family and civic engagement as well as a focus on healing and wellness are top priorities, especially with regard to the possibilities for their new fourth location. They have engaged the community to understand the needs of families in the area. Dawn says, “Our ultimate goal is that whatever services we’re delivering, they’re going to be high quality and serve the actual needs of the community.” Rha built on this idea stating, “We listen for good. We don’t assume we know what’s best for the community. We want to gather all of the stakeholders around to figure out what services are actually going to be utilized and needed in those spaces.”
With regard to the community’s need for wellness, Rha shared that the pandemic “opened up the realization that we need healing.” Over the course of the pandemic, Lotus Bloom offered parent-focused events led by Rha, “Mr. Rha workshops,” where parents could gather and focus on self-care. He received expressions of gratitude and love from parents who participated in the workshops, “It was for us [parents]. It was for our well-being. As folks who are caregivers, we often don’t get to care for ourselves.”
With regard to civic engagement, both Dawn and Rha stressed the importance of civic engagement as a means to how the community at large could support Lotus Bloom, and put the onus on both community members and family resource providers. Rha says, “I would like to see Lotus Bloom get involved with the issues on the ballot that affect our communities and provide the spaces for our families to learn about them.” Dawn says, “it’s on us as providers to make the community aware of opportunities to be heard and share their voices with congressmen and city councilors like we do when we [Oakland Starting Smart and Strong advocacy committee] meet with them.” Dawn works closely with Oakland Starting Smart and Strong on their advocacy committee focused on the universal preschool initiatives, and expressed excitement about California incorporating universal Transitional Kindergarten. Committee members have met with elected leaders to implore them to “gain a deeper understanding of how crucial and important early childhood development and education is across the board.” Dawn continued to emphasize the importance of funding family resource organizations and centers, but urged the state to “start compensating the providers and teachers as well.”
To keep up with the latest news from Lotus Bloom, you can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube, subscribe to their mailing list, and check out their blog. Rha and Dawn also invite families to come check them out during a Mr. Rha workshop or puppet show!
Written and edited by Bonnie Look and Kate Ray.