There are a few things I feel passionate about and one of those is early education. I have often said that there is no bigger value than the investment made on early education and I’m thrilled that stimulus funds are being used to ensure that quality early childcare programs are developed and maintained.
I recently got the opportunity to visit Associates for Human Services in Taunton, an agency that provides, among other things, an Early Head Start program and an Early Intervention program, both of which received help from stimulus.
It was clear, from the moment I walked in the door, that everyone at this agency is passionate about what they do. Ronna Schaffer, the director of the Early Head Start program, told me that when she heard about the Early Head Start expansion grant through stimulus she knew there was no doubt they would get it. “We knew the need in the community,” she said.
Ronna told me that most of the families in Early Head Start are at the federal poverty level and are struggling with issues that make parenting a challenge. Associates’ Early Head Start program is home based and Lori Grayden, a parent-child advocate, who was hired through the stimulus grant, told me that she goes into families’ homes by playing with the kids and reading to them, she helps the parents with a range of issues they might have. “I become like a coach to the child,” she says.
What was most powerful was hearing from Kellie, a mother of five, about the impact of Early Head Start on her family. She works with Lori and she told me her two-year old son is learning to communicate with sign language, is overcoming his fear of water and he is learning to sing. “He’s learning so much and it’s because of Early Head Start. I don’t know what I would do without them. It’s not easy to be low income. But I get so much support from Early Head Start. It’s not just for the child but for the parent also.”
Associates also got funding to maintain its Early Intervention services and in perhaps the most emotional moment of all my visits so far, I got the chance to talk to some of the mothers about the impact those services have on their kids. Nicole told me her two year old son wasn’t communicating and with Early Intervention he went from speaking two works to 100 in six months. “This was such a big help to my family,” she said.
Shiobhan had no idea her son Angelo was autistic until he was diagnosed after the Early Intervention staff suggested an evaluation. She told me he wouldn’t be where he is today – smiling, expressive, signing – if it wasn’t for the therapies he is receiving. Lori’s son Jonathan was also diagnosed with autism and received services through Early Intervention. She was clearly elated to tell me that he has successfully transitioned to the local public school.
Yvette’s two-year old daughter Olivia was born with spina bifuda and she couldn’t help but cry as she told me that thanks to the services from Early Intervention Olivia was nearly walking without her walker. “She wouldn’t be doing this without them,” she said of her Early Intervention therapists.
It was heart rending to hear these mothers’ struggles but inspiring to hear their strength.