SPARK (Strong Parents and Resilient Kids) strives to leave a lasting and profound impact with the families, children and community it serves. Providing wrap-around and clinical case management services primarily to Sunnydale’s families but also other SF Hope sites with children 0-5, SPARK’s presence belies its 5-year-old existence.
Comprised of four committed IFR staff – Linda Mora, Tia Phillips, Tone Va’i and Phillip Watson – the SPARK team takes a humble approach to deeply understand and observe how Sunnydale residents are perceived, underestimated and/or can be negatively approached from those outside of the Sunnydale community. These approaches can further devalue the people and real progress there. Yet, as Tia breaks it down: “Sunnydale is rich with community resources, leadership that actively serves community members around the clock by planning, creating and initiating services of all kinds. This can include events, medical, health and wellness initiatives, local partnerships, programs, tutoring, supportive services for children, drop-in and food services for elders, and ensuring residents know they are valued and visible.” In many ways, the SPARK team mirrors the love, dedication, commitment, resilience, and heart of Sunnydale’s own residents.
Despite increased attention on public and affordable housing over the last decade, few individuals know much about Sunnydale’s residents and how hard they work to build their lives and community. “Sunnydale is no stranger to hard times,” Tia offers. “When times or situations get rough, the amount of generous support from Sunnydale community leaders and members blossoms with love, a dedicated work ethic, and tremendous commitment to community and action. They don’t get stuck or lost waiting on outside validation or promises.”
When you think about it, Tia’s words ring true. As Tone recounted: “When COVID-19 hit, Sunnydale residents provided incredible community-led advocacy for early testing. Given how disparate the impact of COVID (Tone) has been and continues to be on Black and Brown people, the instincts of community leaders in Sunnydale to demand early and immediate on-site testing as a prevention tool was spot on.” Tone recalls the community-led contact tracing that took place in Sunnydale. “This kind of work can only be leveraged by relationships and community care.” Linda confirms this view, offering: “I saw residents helping out others wherever they could, and sharing resources with each other.” These are not the traditional views one has of Sunnydale.”
Much of San Francisco doesn’t truly see the many facets of Sunnydale. “Trauma and systemic racism play their parts in what happens in Sunnydale, but what gets lost is the humanity of its residents,” Tia continued. “The foundation of Sunnydale is like most neighborhoods of children and families; there are multigenerational families, working families, striving families, and families and children facing challenges, There is afterschool programming, neighboring libraries, recreational centers and local parks.”
“The children and youth at Sunnydale are dreamers and achievers, artists, athletes, computer whizzes, college bound (including some with full scholarships), youth who sometimes mentor other youth, and those who help parents run their businesses. There are adults and children who, through the hardest of times, strive to try learn and practice healthy coping skills, to rise to the next day ready to face the world.”
These are the stories that SPARK wants to highlight.
The SPARK team not only provides services to Sunnydale residents, but clearly feels a great love for the community. Together, they shared how beautiful it has been to see elderly family members help raise younger children, as several generations may occupy one unit. It’s not that they are unaware of the challenges families are facing; they certainly see those too as Linda notes: “We’ve seen how children are fearful of the police because of the trauma they have experienced as a result of law enforcement’s actions.”
SPARK is sensitive to families’ experiences and the challenges they continue to face. At the same time, they remind them of their strengths to help empower families to recognize that their voices and truths are valuable. They do this in true IFR/SPARK style.
“We don’t follow a rigid westernized version of mental health. It’s important that we are accessible to our families. So, we participate in community events and meetings and other important times in their lives,” offers Linda, reflecting on the continued challenges the SPARK team faces. “It can be hard to provide the type of support IFR is known for when institutional requirements often don’t align with the way we build relationships and trust with residents. For example, the need to pathologize and diagnose an infant and/or children within 60 days remains an ongoing struggle that we continue to advocate against. Our families deserve better than this.”
SPARK views increased resources in Sunnydale as integral. Phillip, for example, notes that although case management is provided by organizations within Sunnydale, more staff is needed to provide intensive case management to help families navigate legal issues, obtain linkages to financial resources, basic needs, transportation, and advocacy, and accompany families to appointments.
Even though they focus on supporting the resilience of Sunnydale residents, SPARK members also recognize the historic and current political context of the Black community and the many issues of racial equity they face. In their own way, SPARK offers a stark reminder that Black Lives Matter isn’t simply a political chant. It is rooted in real issues in our own communities – including San Francisco’s and even IFR’s. By association, we are all responsible to uplift and support the autonomy of the Sunnydale community.
No doubt Sunnydale's incredible resident leadership and commitment to accountability and each other could rival that of any institution. As the SPARK team offers: “We must match the leadership of Sunnydale’s residents to ensure IFR gives as powerfully as it gets.”
Change starts locally.