More than four years ago Rosario Galeana walked into a parenting class, eager to be a better parent, but unsure how to start. By the end of the evening she had a beginning. She went home, gathered her four children, delivered an apology and announced her plan.

“I was a screamer. Right after that very first class I remember coming home and it just blew me away. I made a promise to my kids: From this day on, please stop me if I ever start screaming,” Galeana recalled.

She posted reminder notes around the house. Are you screaming? She kept at it, attended more parenting classes with the non-profit organization Padres Unidos and soaked up every lesson.

Now Galeana is ready to pass it on, along with 27 fellow students. They comprise the first cohort to complete a two-year Padres Unidos-Chapman University Extension Program offered in collaboration with the College of Educational Studies. The students will be honored at a special ceremony Saturday, June 1, at 9 a.m. in Memorial Hall where they will be presented with Community Worker Awards.

“We see it as a blessing and as a dream come true,” says Pedro Velasco, a Santa Ana resident and student in the program, along with his wife.

It has meant driving to Chapman on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings to attend classes on numerous topics, from child development to teaching strategies. In addition students take exams, perform field work, write papers and complete a portfolio. But Velasco sees it all as opportunity.

“When I was in Mexico I just graduated from high school and couldn’t go farther than that. With this program being in Spanish, it opened a door,” says Velasco, who speaks conversational English, but studies in his native language.

Equally proud of the students’ accomplishments in completing the two-year program is the faculty in the College of Educational Studies. When Padres Unidos came to CES back in 2010, looking for an organization that could help validate and add structure to its training program, CES saw the organization’s grass roots approach as resonant with the college’s central values, says Professor Suzi Soohoo, Ph.D., curriculum advisor to the program.

“We knew almost immediately that there would be a philosophical bond. Their model is based on the idea of working within communities and not on communities — In other words, it wasn’t the grand ivory tower experts running out into the community to drop its values on the people,” Soohoo says.

Padres Unidos uses community volunteers to teach classes in the neighborhoods where they live, often in the schools their own children have attended. Classes are also taught at Librería Martínez de Chapman University, the landmark bookstore started by Rueben Martínez and now operated by Chapman as a non-profit community education hub.

Padres Unidos volunteers Araceli Fernandez, left, and Judith Martinez, share insights and ideas during a Friday evening class in Beckman Hall. The volunteers are taught by Padres Unidos instructors but classes are held at Chapman University.

Padres Unidos volunteers Araceli Fernandez, left, and Judith Martinez, share insights and ideas during a Friday evening class in Beckman Hall. The volunteers are taught by Padres Unidos instructors but classes are held at Chapman University.

Padres Unidos’ was begun in 1996 by Patricia Huerta, a social worker who had reshaped her own life through education after her husband left her as a young mother, jobless and alone with five children. The non-profit organization has long offered programs in partnership with the County of Orange, but Huerta wanted an additional partner that could offer her volunteers some form of official recognition. She turned to Chapman.

“It has been a great gift,” she says.

Soohoo and fellow faculty say they mostly just fine-tuned the program, reviewed the curriculum and showed Padres Unidos’ instructors how to manage the kind of record keeping – attendance and grades – necessary to track student performance and eligibility for the Community Workers Awards. The heart of the program was already solid, says Soohoo.

“It all looked really good,” she says.

Meanwhile, Ellen Curtis-Pierce, Ph.D., director of Chapman’s Office of Extended Education, administered the program and created a discounted tuition structure unique from its other certificate programs. The package included student email addresses, university pennants, family tours of the campus and library cards for use at Leatherby Libraries. Those perks are priceless and do catch the attention of the next generation, says Erika Perales-Medina, Huerta’s daughter and a program instructor.

“They are so proud to say ‘I’m going to Chapman and I’m getting an education.’ The impact on families is tremendous,” Perales-Medina says.

And family is all about why Galeana says she persevered through the program.

“I want to set an example and set the bar high and let them know it’s not okay to slack off,” she says.

A strong message, spoken softly.