On the surface, Partners for Peace is a non-profit organization that offers family education classes. For some participants, it goes further. “It can save families,” says Margarita Cervantez, single mother of four and Parents for Peace facilitator.

Cervantez started out as a student of P4P and later became an animator. She took Loving Solutions, a 10-week course, and says it helped her change the way she communicates with her children, eventually developing a more harmonious relationship with them. “It made me rethink my expectations of children and the way I raised them,” she says.

Partners for Peace began about 25 years ago providing outreach services to farm workers with literacy programs and family education classes. In 2009, they reduced their scope to focus on family education. Today, the organization offers four different courses in English and Spanish: the Strengthening Families program, aimed at children and parents / guardians, is designed to improve family relationships; the Parent Project, in which parents learn to identify and deal with negative behavior; Loving Solutions, a prevention program; and Step Up Mentoring, for children to set goals and develop life skills. All programs are free.

Many parents who attend Cervantez’s Parenting Project class are there due to a court order and feel punished. But the classroom work aims to help participants not only comply, but learn “how to be better parents and produce better citizens,” Cervantez explains. The hope is that new skills allow parents to break the cycle of parenting based on the practices passed down to them, avoiding yelling or spanking and instead communicating productively. “We have parents who couldn’t tell their children that they loved them or hug them because they weren’t used to it,” Cervantez explains.

With a little coaching, parents begin to say affirming words – as simple as saying “I love you” to their children – and when they receive a similar response from their children, it encourages them to keep going.

“The only way a child will know you love them is to say I love you in writing or verbally,” adds Vicki Law, Executive Director of P4P.