At first glance, Esmeralda Huerta seems like a typical 30-something Californian. When you first meet her, you are struck by her quiet confidence. She is beautiful, but unassuming. Reserved, but flashes a wide smile that lights up the room. Esmeralda lives in the greater Sacramento area with her husband and preteen son. She enjoys reading, drinking coffee, and playing board games. She spends time volunteering at church, and never gets tired of watching old Friends reruns. But, there is so much more to Esmeralda. Peek with me into Esmeralda’s life for a moment to see just a glimpse of her fascinating story.
Esmeralda’s life has not been without challenges. For instance, she had the unique experience of growing up as a first-generation American Latina. She also spent several years parenting her young son alone as a single mother. Currently working at a local hospital as a Violence Intervention Specialist, she does follow up care for youth and young adults who have survived violent assaults, including stabbings and shootings. That quiet confidence she displays suddenly makes sense as you imagine the calming effect she must have on children who are recovering from violent attacks.
Several years ago, when Esmeralda was a single mother to her then-toddler age son, she heard about an opportunity to take a local parenting class called Strengthening Families. She had heard that every family, regardless of its origin, history, or makeup, could benefit from these classes. Esmeralda felt that as her son’s solo parent, she had an even higher responsibility to learn all she could about how to make their family healthy and strong. Even though she found herself in an incredibly busy time of her life, her deep desire to make her son’s childhood sweet and memorable outweighed her desire to take it easy and she committed to faithfully attending the 11-week class.
Esmeralda enjoyed taking the Strengthening Families class. She met and got to know other families, practicing new skills with them during class time. Esmeralda’s family coach checked in with her after every lesson to answer questions and ask how things were going. This personal touch was very special to Esmeralda as a single mom - someone was interested and cared about her little family’s day-to-day experience!
One of the things Esmeralda gleaned from the Strengthening Families classes that changed her family's life for the better was the practice of “my time,” 15 minutes a day of child-led activity meant to promote bonding. She also began instituting family meals, including purposefully asking questions at the table about each of their days. These small changes she made when her son was little have continued until today - and now, even with a preteen in the house, she and her son still enjoy cellphone-free, positive meals with each other. When her husband came into their lives, he joined the fun!
Growing up a first generation Latina in America, Esmeralda rarely saw opportunities for Spanish-speaking families to learn new tools as a family. Because of her success in improving her own family’s life, she made it her goal to somehow give back to her community. When Esmeralda heard that Delta Prevention, a local drug and alcohol prevention organization, was looking for a Spanish-speaking family coach to lead Strengthening Families classes, she knew it was a position she was meant to take.
Esmeralda thoroughly enjoyed leading other families through the same material that had enriched her life so greatly. One of the Strengthening Families’ lessons was centered upon the effect of drug and alcohol use among minors. Underage drinking can be a hot-button issue for Latino families because many of their countries of origin have younger legal ages for drinking. During this particular class, scientific data was presented which clearly demonstrated the harm of alcohol to the brains of developing children. This information was startling to the parents, but many knew from experience that drinking at younger ages was not the most healthy activity, even if it had been legal. That evening, many parents and children made promises to each other, signing declarations not to abuse alcohol or drink before the legal age.
Esmeralda encourages families to take advantage of local Strengthening Families classes which continue to be offered in the Greater Sacramento area. “Whether you are a strong family unit, a single-parent home, or if your family is falling apart, this program is designed to give you new tools and skills to strengthen your family. Family is worth fighting for and committing to this program is a small sacrifice to pay in return for a healthier home.” Esmeralda has always believed that there are many social benefits to our communities when family units are strong. Her experience first taking classes and then facilitating classes with Delta Prevention helped her family not only grow stronger, but flourish.