The woman sways to the Tejano music playing on her favorite radio station as she prepares a meal for her family. As she reaches for a dish, the song ends, and she realizes it’s time for the next installment of her radionovela (Spanish radio soap opera), ¡Que Gente! ¡Mi Gente!. Unbeknownst to her, this is no ordinary novela. ¡Que Gente! ¡Mi Gente! has been carefully scripted and recorded to inspire and support healthy family relationships through compelling characters and an engaging storyline.
The power of story is just one creative way Family Bridges reaches people with marriage and parenting resources. While the non-profit organization is based in Chicago, its offerings stretch nationwide. More than a website or blog post (although Family Bridges does offer online video, audio, and written resources in English and Spanish), Family Bridges proactively reaches out to the Hispanic community via radio and YouTube, delivering content with value deeper than purely entertainment.
“We encourage a culture of hope through stories delivered online and on stage,” said Alica La Hoz, Psy.D, founder and CEO of Family Bridges. “Story sticks beyond a book or a lecture because you remember it in an emotional way. It paves the way to the heart.”
Family Bridges began recording ¡Que Gente! ¡Mi Gente! in 2016. The two-minute episodes divulge the secrets of the colorful families living in the fictitious town of Santa Monica. The creators leverage the story to put forward a positive message of marriage and family life. In the more than nine seasons it’s been running, the series has addressed 80 topics involving relationships like violence, bullying, conflict resolution, and communication through the varied personalities and situations of the characters. Each season follows a theme and provides an easy way for listeners to take action. For example, an episode might feature one spouse struggling with substance abuse. After a 90-second drama depicting how the problem plays out in family life, it concludes with a 30-second insight – where to find help, how to make a change. Because each episode lasts only two minutes, they run as public service announcements to radio stations in 26 markets at no cost.
Likewise, "Es Un Show" is a mini web-series produced by Family Bridges about family, relationships, love, and life. The original video sitcom, taped in “Spanglish” (both English and Spanish expressions interchangeably) follows a mixed-heritage couple as they raise their 11 and 15-year-old kids.
Los Secretos and La Boda are two live theater events that are often brought to a community through a coalition of church partners working together. While the event is sponsored by the faith community, it also will attract those outside. “It’s an attractive entry for churches and for the gospel,” Alicia said. “People of faith partner with people of good will for a common good.”
The most recent production in Phoenix reached an audience where 95% had not been to a cultural experience of that nature, she said. The message is culturally laden and meant to spark conversations. “Experience can be catalytic to bring about change,” she added.
The theater events have been performed across America. Like the other media offerings, they identify people in situations that represent real life challenges of today and encourage conversation and hope. Most offerings are not developed in English and merely translated into Spanish. Each resource has its own niche, language and audience.
Everyday Owl is an English program designed to reach Generation Z. It offers wisdom and resources about jobs, relationships, and “adulting.” “We were missing the 18-24 year olds as part of the marriage and family system ecosystem,” Alicia said. “They can sign up with volunteer coaches who’ll help them launch.”
Other sessions include: Parenting with Purpose – practical tips to help parents raise successful children with strong character and, Deal With It – common conflicts most couples experience and how to resolve them.
When COVID shifted training to online, Family Bridges created Casademia — an online learning tool providing digital content and virtual coaching to teach practical skills and support emotional wellness – currently available in Spanish only. Casademia’s three hours of e-learning are divided into 15-minute bites taught by a dynamic group of instructors and coaches with years of field experience.
“We’ve always wanted to figure out how to reduce friction,” Alicia said. “The content is available on-line so a participant can return to it in their own time, instead of having a long training program that they’ll forget when they are ready to use it.”
Participants will be empowered with skill sets to help personal and professional relationships move in the right direction. Titles include GROWTH, which describes how to put the best foot forward, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, problem solve and manage stress. A promotion for Family Bridges’ Casademia program reads:
Today’s the day to take control of your relationships and finances. Casademia’s online relationship, parenting and business classes can help you take the first step in creating a brighter future.
Coming Soon: Eternal Romance: a culturally relevant workshop for Hispanic couples to reinforce the importance of communication, conflict resolution, negotiation and empathy, and My Small Business – discover talents and become your own boss. Learn about marketing, business regulations, taxes, finances, insurance and more.
How Family Bridges Began
As a licensed clinical psychologist working with Hispanic parents, couples and children, Alicia witnessed the pain children experienced when they grew up in high-conflict homes. Wanting to end the cycle of trauma, she founded Family Bridges/Lazos de Familia, a mission-driven organization that empowers limited-resource families with tools to combat trauma, mental illness, and poverty.
“Whether it was foster care or couples in crisis, the problems were all relationship driven,” Alicia said. “How can we get in front of it with prevention instead of people drowning in relationship chaos?”
Family Bridges started with six pastoral couples meeting once a month to help serve couples in crisis. This grew to a collaborative pool of 20 partners from the faith community in the Chicagoland area. Today, Family Bridges is a collective of community champions, teachers, counselors, and creatives that empower people through interactive, culturally relevant workshops and events. Participants learn skills to strengthen their relationships at home, at work, and in the community. The organization encourages a culture of hope through stories delivered online and on stage.
“We realized we were just scratching the surface,” she said, “So we became our own organization rather than a program.” Over the past 15 years, Family Bridges has evolved to become the backbone of curriculum and outcome evaluation, training leaders to take their content and approach outside of the walls to serve their now 700-site partners who are the boots on the ground.
“We’ve studied the impact of a five-year project at 10 Catholic churches through the
University of Texas and University of Denver,” Alica reported. “The outcomes are phenomenal, with increased marital satisfaction, more citizen engagement and less abusive concerns. Participants feel like the church cares about the family and marriage.”
"So many people have come before us that have overcome one thing after another. And in spite of the dire circumstances, they're just stronger for it,” she said.
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