Un aplauso por favor,” says Patricia Huerta, the founder and director of Padres Unidos (translation: Parents United), an Orange County-based parent education and support program, as she leads the a discussion at the nearby Orange County Juvenile Hall. “Applause, please,” and the room full of parents breaks into thunderous applause.

Woman smiling.

Patricia Huerta, the founder and director of Padres Unidos

Applause. Smiles. Hugs. That’s what you’ll find if you visit any of Padres Unidos educational programs, whether the program takes place on the Chapman University campus, where Padres Unidos educates community leaders through its
Office of Extended Education
, or at any of 25 different facilities across Orange County. “Padres Unidos is so welcoming,” says Doug Sanger, Division Director of the juvenile hall. Of the various parent support programs he has brought in to work in juvenile hall, Sanger considers Padres Unidos the best and most effective. “We’ve tried other programs,” he says, “and Padres Unidos understands the culture so well – the community. They are non-judgmental and meet parents where they are.”

The parent education sessions themselves are lively and interactive. For example, the parents break into small groups and list personal “
” – or rules –to live by. These include such values as “without love, there is no respect,” “actions have consequences,” and “we all do things we don’t want to do.”

Huerta, who was a single mom of five children when she went back to school to finish her education and become a social worker, says that Padres Unidos is “non-hierarchical” and “based on relationships.” She says, “We invite parents to stop feeling ashamed or embarrassed, to become part of the solution, and to help other parents.”

And it’s working: “Who knows for sure why the crime rate is down,” says Sanger. “I can’t help but think that strengthening families reduces recidivism.”

Chapman University’s College of Educational Studies first became officially associated with Padres Unidos in 2010, and that association continues. “Our work with Padres Unidos is different than what many academics consider ‘community service,’ says Professor Suzi SooHoo of the College of Educational Studies and the Paulo Freire Democratic Project. “We are not there to change Padres Unidos. Instead, we collaborate with them in the Frieran tradition about future possibilities. Our work is based on mutual respect where different knowledge systems – university and local community – are equally valued.”

To get involved or learn more about Padres Unidos, call (714) 616-8423.