What began as a dream to bring empowering after-school reading and writing programs to the Latino community in the Kennett Square area has blossomed over the past few years into a dynamic, multi-dimensional community hub and an essential lifeline for underserved local families. Mighty Writers, a literacy nonprofit with eight locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, established Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett in 2019. The program’s beginning chapters were written during the pandemic.

“These children have so many stories to tell. Many of them have only one parent here, and they crave someone to sit next to them, to read a story,” says Dickens-Trillo. “They want to express themselves. They just need someone to listen.”

Putting a place—and its residents—on the map

If you blink on the road heading west out of Kennett you might miss it—a place between Kennett Square and Avondale with no parks or sidewalks and a single traffic light. Much like this small town where they live and feel safe, the children and families who call Toughkenamon home are often not seen either, says Sara Dickens-Trillo, the inspirational first director of Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett. “These families feel invisible, that they don’t matter.” The mission of El Futuro Kennett is to see, support, and uplift them. Through its various programs and outreach initiatives, the center offers hope and help for a bright future.

“We want to put these families on the map,” Dickens-Trillo says. Many are migrant families who have come to this country carrying little but dreams of a better life for their children. Some of those who arrive, on their own, are hardly more than children themselves. An increasing number of teens are making their way here to look for work in order to support parents, younger siblings, and extended families back home.

While many caring, generous hands and creative, resourceful community leaders have been instrumental in sowing and nurturing the seeds of Mighty Writers’ El Futuro Kennett center, Dickens-Trillo has been at the heart of casting and implementing—and pivoting—the vision to serve and educate local children and their families.

Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett has become a lifeline for local underserved families.

Leading with love

Dickens-Trillo moved to Kennett with her family from California nine years ago. She was unsure if she’d find a Latino community here, but she soon discovered Casa Guanajuato. “This organization impacted me a lot,” she says, “because I knew we would be represented and empowered.” As often happens when people put roots down in new places, Dickens-Trillo learned more about her own culture. As one of Casa Guanajuato’s creative and energetic leaders, she has had an enormous impact on the small but mighty organization which has grown and flourished and shared Latino culture with countless thousands over the years through events like Day of the Dead and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

In her capacity as a volunteer with LCH, Dickens-Trillo says, “I also saw the other side of the Latino experience here, with all of the health issues in our community.” She brought all of this community knowledge and background to the opportunity that opened up to launch a Mighty Writers program in the area. While she was excited to foster culturally rich reading and writing experiences for the children of migrant families, she also understood the basic needs that have to be met before a child can grow and learn.

This was in 2019.

“The pandemic was like a flashlight,” Dickens-Trillo says, “shining on the needs that had always been there.” Food insecurity, a severe shortage of safe and affordable housing, and a lack of public transportation are some of the underlying issues that the crisis laid bare. Dickens-Trillo led epic efforts to ensure these most vulnerable community members had access to food, shelter, clothing, beds, blankets, and more—in addition to laying foundations for the kinds of whole-family educational programming that ultimately will help to break poverty’s vicious cycle.

“Over the past nine years, these three organizations—Casa Guanajuato, LCH, and Mighty Writers—have built me and made me complete. I’ve learned what it is to be human, to support your neighbor,” she says. “It’s been a beautiful journey.”

It’s also a very personal journey. Dickens-Trillo was born and raised on a farm in Mexico with no running water, electricity, or public transportation, and she sees the struggles of her own parents, who moved to a city in the US to provide more opportunities for their children, reflected in the families that Mighty Writers serves.

Giving culturally appropriate food—tortillas, tomatoes, and tomatillos instead of pasta, for example—is one example of giving people what they need instead of what people might assume they need.

Identifying needs, finding solutions

Dickens-Trillo checks in often with families in order to identify and understand their needs—and then she sets about problem solving and connecting. “There are so many beautiful friends in the community who care,” she says. “If you give the problem and the solution to those in a position to help, you will get it. Collaboration is the key.” In this way, El Futuro Kennett has been able to meet overwhelming needs with overwhelming generosity.

Through the adopt-a-family program at Christmas time, for example, local families have received not only necessities like winter coats, food, shoes, and blankets, but also toys and other, perhaps surprising, gifts on their wish lists. “When we asked what they would like for Christmas,” Dickens-Trillo says, “many children asked for their own blankets.” When the program expanded last year to include teens, she says, “Many of our 13- to 19-year-olds opened a Christmas present for the first time.”

Dickens-Trillo emphasizes the importance of getting to know the people we want to help. Giving culturally appropriate food—tortillas, tomatoes, and tomatillos instead of pasta, for example—is one example of giving people what they need instead of what people might assume they need. One of the programs Dickens-Trillo is most proud of raised thousands of dollars so that children could have their own beds. “We make assumptions and don’t understand that those kinds of needs exist until we talk with and listen to people,” she says.

Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett’s after-school academy offers tutoring, homework help, reading and writing activities, and more.

A mighty community hub

The Mighty Writers center at 121 Willow Street in Toughkenamon is a vibrant hub of activity, with an after-school academy that offers tutoring, homework help, reading and writing activities, and more. Providing ESL and digital literacy classes for parents helps to strengthen families and improve parent communications with their children’s schools. It takes many hands and hearts to make these programs successful, and the center welcomes volunteers with even a little bit of time to give.

Part of the healing power of story depends on finding an audience. “Even just listening to someone’s struggles can make a big difference,” Dickens-Trillo says. “These children have so many stories to tell. Many of them have only one parent here, and they crave someone to sit next to them, to read a story. They want to express themselves. They just need someone to listen.”

A Mommy and Me program for toddlers and caregivers prepares little ones for kindergarten and supports the mothers, too. “Many of these moms, and especially those from Guatemala, are so young, illiterate, with nothing for themselves,” Dickens-Trillo says. She’d love to see volunteers come alongside these women to spend time with them, maybe lead a craft that they would enjoy. “You don’t have to speak their language to show care, and it means so much,” she says.

Another program for teens has recently evolved at the center. “The Mighty Muchachos program for teens is very dear to our hearts,” Dickens-Trillo says. “We’re trying to support these teens who are here by themselves—to help them learn English, teach digital literacy, help them with resumes and job searches. We want them to know that they’re not alone.”

A monthly family night brings families together for dinner and connection. Parents and children enjoy activities and read to and with each other. “We’re also using this program to help educate parents about US culture,” Dickens-Trillo says. “We want to help people understand the often unwritten but assumed rules of how to be a good citizen and neighbor—things like etiquette that everyone assumes but that are culturally specific.”

A summer camp program includes a varied program for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade Monday through Thursday at two different sites, in addition to off-site pop-up camps on Fridays at apartment buildings for kids who can’t get to the regular program.

Dickens-Trillo would love to see more community members give of themselves and their time.

The mighty impact of a little time and attention

Though Dickens-Trillo herself dedicates countless hours to serving, she’s passionate about helping people to understand the mighty impact of giving even just a little bit of time and attention to others. “People in the Kennett community are so generous,” she says, but as she prepares to leave the area this month to move back to Texas with her family, she leaves a challenge. “Get to know someone outside your own circle,” she says. She’d love to see the community give of themselves and their time—showing the same support and generosity demonstrated by financial gifts by investing themselves. “Sometimes people think the expectations are so high and they don’t have what it takes to help,” she says, “but everyone can give a little.”

“We’re giving these children the tools to help them give back to their parents and in turn impact their communities someday. They will be able to do this because someone cared.”

The Mighty Writers center at 121 Willow Street in Toughkenamon welcomes volunteers to help serve local families through its many different programs.

The future of El Futuro

Dickens-Trillo brought many big dreams to life here in Kennett, she leaves some for others to accomplish. She is bringing new hopes and dreams to Texas, along with experiences that have equipped her to serve her home community.

Tim Whitaker, executive director at Mighty Writers, shares the way forward for Dickens-Trillo and for El Futuro Kennett. “Sara Dickens-Trillo, our Mighty fearless leader at our El Futuro Kennett center, will be leaving us shortly to return to El Paso, Texas, where she grew up. We were, of course, saddened by the news. But like all powerful leaders, Sara is leaving behind a focused and dynamic group of instructors, each of whom is committed to carrying on the same level of excellence that will forever stand as Sara’s legacy. What’s more, Sara will be tasked with launching a Mighty Writers program in El Paso, where literacy programs for kids are at a premium. So we’re thinking of this as a win-win for Mighty Writers and the communities Sara has dedicated her life to serving.”

Dickens-Trillo sees her bittersweet return to Texas as coming full circle. She’s looking forward to spending time with her 96-year-old father and to continuing to honor the legacy of her mother, who gave so much to serve the community where she grew up. In a small if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it community much like Toughkenamon, she will work to put these families on the map, too.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities at Mighty Writers El Futuro Kennett, contact Senior Director Yakquelin Garduño at ygarduno@mightywriters.org

Photos by Dylan Francis