Mariposa Family Learning Center, the 2-Gen childcare effort developed by Austin City Lutherans, opened its doors in SE Austin on January 30, 2020. Covid-related difficulties temporarily shut down Mariposa FLC in March, but the facility reopened in August with its mission intact: to serve low-income families with top-notch childcare and educational programming.
A silver lining of the pandemic, if there is such a thing, has been the availability of emergency grants to help non-profits survive. Mariposa has had a very good year attaining more than $120,000 from granting agencies outside of the Austin City Lutherans’ network of congregations. These grants, along with donations and gifts from within the ACL network, have helped Mariposa move forward through a trying first year. The grant-writing team that I lead – consisting of ACL Treasurer Steve Zwernemann, Debbie Seeger, Milt Nielsen, and Mariposa Director Sheila Pharis – has done exceptional work.
To keep this good momentum going, Mariposa’s governing board recently hired a part-time director of advancement to work not only with the grant-writing team, but also to spearhead additional fundraising efforts: special events, including an annual fund drive, and strategies to attract corporate, philanthropic and individual giving. Mariposa received numerous applications for the position and settled upon a professional with seventeen years’ experience in the non-profit sector and plenty of enthusiasm for Mariposa’s mission.
Patsy Harris (pictured) is the new director of advancement for Mariposa Family Learning Center. Mariposa and Ms. Harris, in many ways, are a very good match. I asked her a few questions about what attracted her to Mariposa.
“I have an appreciation for the social barriers that prevent communities of color from accessing quality education, health care, and jobs.”
Patsy grew up in a military family, and majored in business and political science at Sam Houston State. She’s also an alumna of Texas State University, where she earned her master’s degree in public administration. Currently, she’s working on a master’s in strategic management and executive leadership at Penn State University. Patsy is the mother of three young-adult children; she enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her children.
Mariposa’s commitment to a 2-Gen approach – working alongside parents through support and educational programming as a strategy to enhance their children’s access to opportunities – stands out for Patsy. “Economics and language shouldn’t be barriers for children.” A 2-Gen approach, she says, “empowers parents to be advocates for their children’s education.”
A person of faith, Patsy balances work, motherhood, volunteering, and studies. She’s also a cancer survivor. Two foundational faith understandings – inclusion and servant-leadership – dictate how she operates in the world. “I know it sounds cliché, but it’s very true,” she told me as if pointing to her guiding North Star. “We are all God’s children.” Her verbal delivery of these five words – slow and emphatic – made their meaning transcend the cliché.
Three years ago, ACL had the vision to raise up an early childhood development effort from its existing ministry, Bread For All Food Pantry. The vision was an answer to the question that emerged as ACL leaders saw children in the food lines with their parents: What could ACL do as its best effort to prevent or mitigate the damaging effects of childhood poverty? Early childhood development was a great response to the question – but there was no location, staff, nor budget by which to carry out this proposed vital ministry.
Thanks be to God for incredible ACL supporters, volunteers, and churches who committed themselves to carry out this vision. A location was secured, specific plans were implemented, and God’s people stepped up. More than $200,000 was donated to establish Mariposa FLC, more than 1700 volunteer hours of rehab work shored up Mariposa’s building and prepared it for service, staff was hired, and Mariposa board leaders mapped out strategies to move the organization forward. Mariposa has withstood the difficulties imposed by Covid-19 and is now fully established in the Montopolis neighborhood to support the well-being of children and their families.
Mariposa FLC has big plans for 2021: the start of parent support and educational programming, the expansion of classes and facilities, and the strengthening of community ties. Mariposa FLC Advancement Director Patsy Harris, with her skills and experiences, will help Mariposa progress to these next level goals of organizational development which are part of Mariposa’s mission: to serve low-income families with top-notch childcare and educational programming.
- Rev. Tim Anderson, ACL Director