- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

She never wanted to be called “Mom” or “Mother” and certainly not “Mother Jones” - just simply “call me Ms. Jones.” But Brenda H. Jones, founder and executive director of the Parklands Community Center (PCC) for nearly 30 years, has nurtured, directed, taught and provided a safe haven for enough struggling Southeast Washington residents to earn an honor higher than “mentor.”

“I wake up to serve people,” Ms. Jones said last week as she prepared to host her self-help organization’s first sit-down appreciation dinner, which celebrated 50 mothers Saturday night at the Town Hall Education, Arts and Recreation Campus (THEARC) on Mississippi Avenue Southeast.

And serve she does. The Mother’s Day Gala Awards Dinner, where Parklands-area mothers enjoy a meal with their families, is the latest of many treats Ms. Jones tries to provide for parents, many of whom are trying to get their lives back on track.

What concerns her most these days, after three decades of social service work in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the nation’s capital? After several emergency distractions, Ms. Jones eventually handed her interviewer a note she’d secretly scribbled on a scrap of used, torn printer paper: “You have the power to shape your child’s future or not.”

Ms. Jones’ eyes widen and her voice becomes forceful as she makes a passionate case for better parenting. She is adamant that children cannot be helped unless you help their parents, mainly mothers, heal and become whole, first.

“Once parents are able to become self-sufficient and more confident in their parenting, our community will be a better place to live and work,” she says.

Although PCC began as a bare-bones basement recreation program for idle children and teens, including her own two sons, who were under siege from drug-related gunfire, Ms. Jones said the organization now exclusively deals with adults in order to create healthy families.

Through the years, the games and field trips for children at the community center evolved into computer training classes for teens and data-processing training for young adults, and finally into adult-oriented classes and workshops.

“I really felt that solutions begin at home,” she said. Some of the families she works with from the District government’s Housing First Program don’t have permanent housing.

PCC’s signature project is called “Move-On, A Life Changing Program.” Its mission, fulfilled through sometimes twice-daily parenting and child-rearing workshops, is to “assist parents in their ability to understand the needs of their children and make available to parents tools to effectively provide their children with nurturing, guidance and [a] living environment to raise healthy children with hope for the future.”

Parents must attend a certain number of sessions.

Kimely Holsey, 29, said Mother’s Day this year would be very different thanks to her participation in PCC’s programs and a short-term personal loan from Ms. Jones.

“I’m so happy and so blessed, and I’ve come a long way,” said Ms. Holsey. “This year I’m so excited that I will be celebrating with my family, and that feels great.”

Three of Ms. Holsey’s seven children are living with her now. She’s enrolled in a general educational development (GED) program, and Ms. Jones helped accelerate her move from a shelter into her own subsidized apartment.

Story Continues →