Lifting Parent Voices, The COFI Way


Every second Monday of the month at 5pm, the conference room at the Healthy Homes Coalition fills up with parents. They file in, greet each other warmly and find their usual seats.

Over a quick dinner, weekly stories are swapped and pictures are shared as parents catch up. Parents for Healthy Homes meetings are part support group, part advocacy work, part leadership training class, and all parent connection.

The leadership training component is a result of our relationship with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a nonprofit organization based out of Chicago which connects parents to one another, helping turn their voices in actionable change.  COFI was created in 1995, with former community organizer Barack Obama as a founding member.

Kellie Magnuson, Senior Program Director at COFI shared her thoughts about the value of parent voices, “We at COFI know that low-income parents of color know what their communities need to be family-friendly.  We know that parents who interact with systems have tremendous knowledge about what works and what doesn’t – and yet their expertise is rarely recognized.”

COFI has seen great success in Chicago; their parent groups have tackled local issues in housing, education, hunger, and community safety. They continue to make major strides in the Greater Chicago area, and have developed their progress into training workshops for other parent groups to use within their organizations.

The COFI leadership training model is unique, taking a holistic approach to developing leaders. A three step process takes parent leaders through training that starts with outlining and achieving personal goals, and ends with organizing policy change they want to see.

Parent leaders from all over the United States come to Chicago for COFI’s train-the-trainer workshops, where they can learn the COFI model and bring it home to their communities.

Parents for Healthy Homes connected with COFI in October 2017, with two people going to Chicago to become certified phase one trainers, and headed back for phase two in March, with four people becoming certified.

COFI training is crucial as Parents for Healthy Homes continues to work in keeping kids safe in our city. These parents are working to become leaders of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their communities. Parents have the needed perspective and power to make lasting change, and they are on their way.

Our parent meeting will look a little more formal tonight; our first COFI class of nine parent leaders is celebrating their graduation from phase one at 6pm. Their growth as leaders deserves to be recognized, and it’s only the beginning.