November is National Homeless Children and Youth Awareness Month. As we reflect on how we can best support children and families experiencing housing instability, here is one parent’s story about finding a home in Early Head Start—an experience that turned out to be instrumental in her family’s journey to getting back on their feet.
When my youngest was two months old, my husband and I and our six children were homeless. We didn’t know where we were going to go, how we were going to get started. We were confused. We were lost. I didn’t even know who I was. I searched deep down inside to find myself. Stuck in a hard situation, struggling, I didn’t know what I was going to do or where to start.
We had to put our pride aside, we had to do what was best for our children and for ourselves, and that was finding ourselves to be able to help our family. So, we went to the homeless shelter. We were there for 21 days.
Needing More than Child Care
Desiraya, our youngest was in and out of the hospital with respiratory infections, asthma, ear infections. As you can imagine that added more onto the stress, more onto the struggle. I cried day in and day out. Trying to find myself and still hold myself together for my family. Through it all, I was introduced to AmeriCorps National Service. It saved my life. It helped me to discover who I was, to grow personally and professionally.
I end up with that commitment to AmeriCorps and I had to find childcare, not any child care, but quality education, a safe location and environment, teachers that were willing to teach, had a passion, and were able to advocate for our children as well as for us parents.
When I was introduced to Ohio State University’s Early Head Start program, I found a home. I found the courage to use my voice. I stepped outside of my comfort zone to be able to be that voice for other parents. So, moving forward, Desiraya will be graduating this fall, transitioning into kindergarten.
Overcoming Serious Health Problems
Amidst it all, of her being sick, one day she went for a doctor’s visit and it went all downhill. They admitted her into the hospital for two weeks to find out what was the issue.
The next morning, four doctors walk in and I’m just wondering what in the world is going on. It doesn’t take four doctors to tell you the results of your child’s sleep study or the results of her labs. They said, “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, your daughter needs emergency surgery right away.” It blew my mind. She had surgery, she needed tubes inserted in her ears for her speech and communication that was delayed, so we moved forward with that.
Up to this day, Desiraya has 100 percent of her hearing. She is able to express her needs. She is able to learn, she has that same opportunity as other children her age — sometimes, I’m like please, would you stop talking? Stop interpreting what I feel like — but she’s great. She’s my better half.
A Home in Early Head Start Made the Difference
I believed with the support of Ohio State Early Head Start and her teachers, who sat me down and showed me that support and encouraged me that I was not alone… I was not alone at all. I had people that were there for me. It wasn’t just the stigma that we are always portrayed to have.
Being in AmeriCorps, being introduced to Ohio State University, all of it was a glue for me. I stuck with that and today I use my voice for other parents, for other children that don’t have that voice, that hasn’t discovered their voice yet.
To be that inspiration, parents, we are that voice. We need to use our voice to continue to advocate for our children. For the teachers who are out there, continue to have that passion because our children need it. Quality education is important, and we are that very first step.