This is a big year for the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI), an initiative that has been changing lives in Bridgeport for a quarter century.
PLTI is run by RYASAP and its goal is to train parents to become advocates and change agents for the next generation. It’s an intensive program — over the course of 22 weeks, participants complete a curriculum that’s focused on strengthening advocacy and leadership skills.
The program also focuses on expanding knowledge on important topics like the life cycle of a child, budgeting practices, how local government works, social and economic trends, and more. Some examples of the more nuanced sessions are “The Power of the Media and How to Use It”, “The Intentional Use of Language”, and “The Magic of the Unexpected Alliances”.
While PLTI is now a national program, it started in Connecticut three decades ago. Bridgeport’s first PLTI class graduated in 1998 — making this year the 25th anniversary for the community program.
For many on the PLTI team, the connection to the program runs deep — like for Sandra Carmichael, RYASAP’s Community Training Coordinator. She’s been involved in the program for almost twenty years, ever since going through it as a participant herself.
“When I first heard about PLTI, I was new to Bridgeport, and didn’t know how to get involved with the community, so I started there,” recounts Carmichael. “And it has opened up so many doors for me in many ways. It’s been life-changing. The impact that I’m able to make on people’s lives has far exceeded my hopes and dreams.
Year after year, Carmichael sees each class of PLTI graduates transform into leaders and advocates — not only for themselves and their children, but for the broader Bridgeport community as well.
A key component of the program is a community project, which is required for graduation. The PLTI participants design their own projects based on their lived experiences and passions, in the end creating real, concrete solutions for others in the community.
Projects have focused on themes like mental health, addiction, single motherhood, education, entrepreneurship – the list goes on and on. A few participants have developed systems to help others navigate immigration processes or the foster care system. One recent graduate created a uniform exchange program. Some projects have even turned into full-time job opportunities.
“The work that comes out of it is just amazing,” says Carmichael. “Our parent leaders are absolute rock stars.”
The community projects are just the beginning. PLTI participants become lifelong learners, leaders and advocates. All together, the PLTI alumni from the past 25 years are 360 strong — and counting. Many of them are not only leading successful lives and careers themselves, but are still paying it forward.
“We’re impacting lives everywhere,” says Carmichael. “We’re holding positions in office, we’re holding leadership roles in our jobs, we’re on boards. We’ve been impactful in so many different ways.”
With this year marking the 25th graduating class of PLTI, the RYASAP team is going big. The graduation ceremony on June 20 will also be an anniversary celebration — focused on all the impact that the alumni, and future participants, continue to have on the Bridgeport community and beyond.
“I love celebrating accomplishments, so for the 25th year, I wanted to do something different,” says Carmichael.
The anniversary event will be held at Housatonic Community College and will feature several exciting speakers, presentations, and a showcase of the 2023 class’s community projects. Local government and community leaders are expected to attend. The anniversary event is also open to the public; visit here for more information on attending.
A big spotlight will also be put on PLTI alumni, many of whom are still very engaged with the program, some since the very beginning. “We’re going to honor Diane Crawford-Tyner, a graduate of the very first class in Bridgeport,” said Carmichael. “She still does a lot of important work for the program behind the scenes.”
Even with 25 years behind it, PLTI in Bridgeport is working as hard as a new start-up.
Carmichael and the rest of the team have a lot of plans for the next chapter of the program — including more engagement opportunities with alumni and targeted outreach to recruit more male participants.
They’ll also continue to expand the Children’s Leadership Training Institute (CLTI). Designed for the children of PLTI participants, CLTI covers the same curriculum but with lessons appropriate for young children (ages 3-11). The lead teacher, Gina Levon Simpson, also leads the students through a community project, just like the parents. The 2023 CLTI class fundraised for a school in Haiti that was started by a PLTI graduate.
Carmichael sees the future of PLTI expanding to new levels of impact and reach – including even beyond parents.
“You don’t have to necessarily be a parent,” explains Carmichael. “Even if you’re a single person who is passionate about becoming a leader or advocate — this is the program for you.”
Recruitment for the January 2024 cohort will ramp up in Fall 2023, but applications can be submitted on a rolling basis. Participating in PLTI is free of charge for participants. Applications can be submitted here.