Former Healthy Families Client Gives Back to Community with Nonprofit Dance Academy
Yaya Rodriguez was only 19 when she became a mother.
Having moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States two years prior, Yaya was still in the process of growing up herself while trying to find her place in her new community.
“I was very young-minded,” she said. “Aside from my family, I didn’t have a huge support system.”
The hospital staff introduced her to Catholic Charities Boston’s Healthy Families program in Lynn, a voluntary and free home-based family coaching program that supports young, first-time parents in creating stable, nurturing environments for their children.
“For young parents in need, Catholic Charities has the connections,” said Yaya. “Having access to that is priceless.”
Beginning the very first week her son was born, Yaya worked with a Healthy Families home visitor over the course of two years to navigate the responsibilities of being a young, single mother, from learning about healthy child development to discussing the future, identifying career goals, and learning how to balance employment with motherhood.
“We would sit down every week and talk about my goals, and how I see myself and my expectations now that I had a baby.” said Yaya. “It can be terrifying being a young mom or young dad. Having someone there to support you, who doesn’t judge you, makes a huge difference.”
As Yaya worked with her home visitor, and grew more confident in herself and her goals, she said she naturally found herself drawn to career and volunteer opportunities that allowed her to pay it forward in her community and help others in need.
One way she did so was by teaching dance, a longtime passion of hers, to children who belonged to Dominican parishes in the Lynn community.
“Several churches reached out and asked if I could help choreograph dances before an event they had. I started training myself and then teaching the kids. I had never taught before, but I loved to dance, so I went for it,” said Yaya.
What began as a small temporary project quickly drew the love and support of the Lynn community. “Someone approached me and said, ‘You have a lot of patience and a way of talking to people. I think you could teach full time,” said Yaya.
In 2011, with grant funding from community sponsors and partners, Yaya opened the Cultura Latina Dance Academy, which became formally recognized as an academy in 2014 and a 501(c)(3) in 2016.
Today, Yaya oversees the organization and teaches dance classes at the academy to students anywhere from age two up to adults, who pay just a small membership fee to ensure families and children who might not be able to afford dance otherwise can participate.
“We work with kids in DCF foster programs and with children living in shelters. For many, this is an escape from reality, a time to just have fun,” said Yaya.
Yaya said she will never forget the difference Healthy Families made in her and her child’s life. Now, she strives to make the parents and children she meets and works with every day feel supported and a part of something bigger than themselves.
“My mom always told me, ‘It takes a village.’ Having resources and people to support you is incredible. It can be a lonely world, but being a part of something day to day is great.”