She said: “We are gonna get through this”

Early Head Start teams conducting community outreach in East New York.

By Melissa Aase, CEO of University Settlement


Early Head Start at Children’s Corner in East New York offers evidence-based early education for children 0-3

EHS Family Child Specialists visit families in their homes, partnering with caregivers to build supportive learning environments

Eligible families can participate in free workshops, early childhood mental health counseling, and assistance preparing for 3K

Every day, Family Child Specialists from University Settlement’s Early Head Start (EHS) programs visit families in their homes, meeting children and caregivers where they live and helping build supportive learning environments.

Because every person and every situation are different, every single home visit is a complex interaction of trust, support, and care. It’s very sensitive work, and we do it because it can make a tremendous impact.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jolene, whose twin sons participate in EHS at Children’s Corner in East New York. She told me about the natural concerns she felt about the idea of an educator coming into her home, as well as the many positive things her family has experienced as a result of partnering with EHS:

“We got involved with University Settlement when I brought my boys to a community garden where your team was tabling, doing activities with the kids and talking with people about the program.

We live close to Children’s Corner, and that was exciting, so I signed up. But when the team told me that they made home visits, I froze. I didn’t want anybody coming into my home. I was worried because my living situation wasn’t the best at the time and the apartment is small.

But when Vanessa from the EHS team came to do intake, she was so sweet. She could tell I was nervous – she was reading my mind. She stopped and asked me what I needed right now. The tears just started streaming down my face. She paused and said, ‘We are gonna get through this.’ That moment changed me. We all go through hardships, but this was a small opportunity to turn it around and make a big impact. The EHS team ended up making us different referrals for my family’s housing crisis. They’ve been able to help us with a lot of other things.

I was concerned about how one of my sons was communicating, and I worried he would need an evaluation. At home he would use only a few words. But now that he’s participating in the Early Head Start program, he uses full sentences. It turns out he is flourishing.

Parents, we second guess ourselves. I had imposter syndrome. I was questioning whether I was doing enough with the boys at home. When we got started with Early Head Start, it was a great opportunity to learn about the milestones children reach as they grow.

My sons are very attached and have separation anxiety. So, we experimented with sitting down to do arts and crafts activities together, and then I’d step out of the room to see if they noticed or if they would have a meltdown. Now, time without me is part of their routine. They know Mommy is coming back. Partnering with Vanessa and the team, we’ve also worked on milestones like potty training and reading, and the importance of routine.

I want my sons to be part of the community outside of our home, to interact with other children and their parents. Our small apartment isn’t ideal for recreation, so we’re always at different community events. And when you’re out with your children, you can really see how your parenting is affecting them.

Early Head Start changed everything. Now, I’m taking my children somewhere enriching, where they’re able to play with different toys, where they’ve experienced soccer and yoga. We did cooking classes where we made yogurt parfaits and pumpkin cheesecake. The EHS team registered our family for a free museum pass – we went to the Museum of Natural History, which was great because we love dinosaurs.

My sons have developed a lot of core memories with this program, and I’ve been able to connect with other moms in the neighborhood. I’ve built relationships with the EHS director and staff. I text Vanessa all the time and she checks on me and follows up on how we’re doing. That feels great for me.”

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