Welcoming new board member series: Meet Vanessa

Continuing our series of introductions to our newest Board Members and leaders of our community, please welcome Vanessa Santamaria Dainton who has lived in Austin for 33 years and enjoys spending time with family, reading, journaling, and exercise- especially walking her dog Lali. She also likes to paint, sew, and create jewelry. Vanessa consults in education and we asked her a few questions about her involvement with AVANCE-Austin and here´s what she had to say:

How did you first learn about AVANCE-Austin and why do you want to get involved?

I first learned about AVANCE-Austin when I was supporting central Texas early childhood teachers as a School Readiness coach back in 2010. In that time, I was able to work with Head Start educators, early childhood practitioners and specialists, and was introduced to the many local organizations that support our area families with young children. Since then, I have also met many parents that have gone through the AVANCE program that have spoken very highly of their experience and the supportive community they were introduced to through their time. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the stories of many mothers that have graduated from AVANCE and the impact it has had in their lives.

What is your favorite thing about AVANCE-Austin?

What I love about AVANCE-Austin is not only their mission, the expertise they hold in the importance of the caregiver-child relationship, but how they work to build community and build to support the strengths of the participants. The time commitment that participants make to the program is not an easy one, but that goes to show how not only dedicated the families are to participate, but how valuable AVANCE is in serving them. Having a trusted and reliable community and building peer relationships in those early parenting years is so key to growing confidence for our parents to be able to advocate and support their children and themselves in healthy ways. Being Latina and born of Spanish speaking immigrant parents with a low level of formal education and therefore limited work opportunity, I understand many of the challenges and struggles that my parents faced trying to not only make ends meet financially, but in also trying to ensure that they were able to provide for me and my two sisters emotionally and practically. Based on my experience, I could see how amazing it would’ve been to have had a program like AVANCE to connect my parents to knowledge, resources, understanding, supports, and a community of other parents like them to bond, commiserate, and problem-solve with to build more confidence, strength, resiliency and understanding. Healthy caregivers raise healthy children. Being in isolation now due to COVID, it can be much more understandable for many how important it is to stay connected in order to learn, navigate, and move forward.

How does being a board member at AVANCE-Austin make you feel?

Humbled, honored, and excited. I look forward to continuing to learn, build relationships, and help grow the work that AVANCE is doing.

What was your favorite toy growing up?

I had two older sisters that were closer in age to each other than to me, so I would find myself playing alone often. I was pretty imaginative, but I always remember having many stuffed animals that served as my playmates too. I had always wanted a pet, so I distinctly remember having a small yellow cat and matching brown dog stuffed animals that I would tie long hair ribbon around their necks and “walk” them around the house during my pretend play. Needless to say I’m allergic to cats (and they don’t walk on leashes anyway) and that love for dogs I still have today and have been walking dogs (whether mine or volunteering at the shelter) until this day.

What is your favorite childhood book?

This is a hard one because I only wish there were as much variety of children’s books back then that were relatable to young Spanish speaking Latina girls as there seem to be more of now. One I clearly remember was Ms. Nelson is Missing! because my world in ‘English’ was mostly in school. Many of the children’s books that I love, I love now having been a teacher, are Tikki Tikki Tembo with the rhythm and play with words, Alma and How She Got Her Name which is a name origin story that I always connected with since I have a very long name and my first name is also Alma. And of course, Esperanza Renace/Rising & She’s Out of Her Mind were favorite chapter book reads that I read with my kids.

What do you hope to accomplish as an AVANCE-Austin board member?

As a board member, I hope to serve as an ambassador for the organization and share the good work with my networks and look for contributions from others. I look forward to being present and listening to learn and speak up with my perspective and questions. I hope to then leave my position in a better place for the next board candidate to take my place when eventually my time is up. I look forward to continuing to meet the families and children, the staff and organization, the board members and be a helpful part of the team to continue to propel our community forward.

AVANCE-Austin’s Board of Directors blends a diverse group of distinguished leaders. The Board oversees the organization’s business strategy, ensures accountability, enhances its public reputation, and serves as a thought partner to the leadership team. Each of the members of our board comes from different walks of life but they are all committed to empowering AVANCE-Austin families reach their highest potential. AVANCE-Austin is so thankful and grateful for everything that the Board does to help this underserved and under-resourced population.