Community Organizing & Family Issues (COFI) is a 20-year-old Chicago-based non-profit organization that builds the leadership, power and voice of low-income parents (primarily mothers and grandmothers of color) to improve life opportunities for children and families. COFI’s innovative parent leadership and community organizing model, Family Focused Organizing, has engaged trained and supported more than 3,400 low-income African American and Latino parents and grandparents in improving preschools, schools, communities and public policies in Chicago and in five other Illinois communities, including suburban and collar counties and East St. Louis.
Using a multi-step model, these grassroots parent leaders have made major changes in public policies and systems that make a difference for low-income families, including winning the return of recess to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the banning of suspensions for children younger than second grade and convincing CPS to adopt restorative justice and scrap its zero tolerance policy, and creating and winning support for a program in which parents go door-to-door in low-income communities to connect families with high quality early education programs.
COFI’s three program areas are:
• Organizing parent teams in local neighborhoods to take action on issues they identify as important to improving life outcomes for children.
• Supporting a cross-community parent-led organization, POWER-PAC, that unites parent leaders across race and ethnicity to impact policy changes of priority benefit to children and families such as preschool access and eliminating the school to prison pipeline.
• A training institute and “shared learning” program that provides training and resources to others to adapt and replicate COFI’s work.