RFF Shout Out: Lotus Bloom

16 Mar, 2023

RFF Shout Out: Lotus Bloom

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Children and caregivers attend storytime at Lotus Bloom. Image c/o Lotus Bloom.

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.

Logo c/o Lotus Bloom.

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.

Lotus Bloom Staff image c/o Lotus Bloom.

We asked Rha and Dawn that if Lotus Bloom could have wishes granted today, what would they wish? They responded:

  • High-quality, universal, free preschool for all families, particularly families of color and low-income families who generally might not have access to preschool. 
  • A Lotus Bloom Retreat Wellness Center in nature where staff, community partners, and families can break bread, gather, ground in nature, envision a healthy Oakland and childhood education programs, and heal.
  • Sustainable discretionary funds to provide stability for the programs and families.
  • An end to systemic racism and a patriarchal society.

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.”

Parents and caregivers gather to focus on self-care in a Mr. Rha Workshop. Image c/o Lotus Bloom.

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.

Kate Ray joined the RFF team in 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Kate spent two years as a middle-school science teacher, first in Fort Worth, Texas, and most recently in Oakland with Aspire Public Schools. Kate’s favorite childhood book was Matilda by Roald Dahl. Her hope for Oakland students is that each will be provided with the tools and support they need to develop and pursue their passions.
Bonnie Look joined the RFF team in 2017. She designs and coordinates the implementation of the Foundation’s strategic communications, program operations, grants management and evaluation. Bonnie’s favorite childhood book was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Her hope for Oakland students if for each to realize their potential, to feel valued and loved, and have a hunger for continuous learning in school and beyond.