From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore and from Central to Southern Maryland, there’s a Judy Center Early Learning Hub to support children and their families.
Cathy Nusbaum, Coordinator for the Frederick County Judy Center, provides the following real-life example of how a Judy Center, in collaboration with its Partnership, can lead a family to self-sufficiency.
Mary is a mother of three young children. She arrived in Frederick, Maryland in 2012. She had fled through the night on a Greyhound bus from another state. She carried only her three young children with her, but she was determined to escape a physically abusive relationship and find a way to start again…and she has.
Mary and the children were able to secure a temporary place to stay in a Frederick County Transitional Family Shelter. The case manager at the shelter referred Mary to the local Department of Social Services (DSS). She helped Mary apply for and receive TANF, SNAP, and Child Care Subsidy vouchers. Mary also enrolled in the Bridges Program to help her begin to find her way to employment and self-sufficiency. Mary’s case manager from the shelter also encouraged her to participate in the “Playgroups” offered by the Judy Center through its partnerships with the school system’s Homeless Education Program and the Transitional Family Shelter.
Mary successfully completed training through the Bridges Program at DSS, and the Child Care Subsidy allowed her to have her children safely cared for while she completed her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training. The Judy Center staff helped Mary explore options and secure child care that was accredited and developmentally appropriate. The Center’s staff worked closely with the shelter staff to assist Mary with her multiple needs. Referrals were made for family and individual counseling as well as for WIC. Assistance was provided to enroll the children in public school (one kindergarten student and one pre-kindergarten student), including helping Mary obtain copies of the children’s birth certificates and immunization records from her previous state. Mary continued to attend events sponsored by the Judy Center, was eventually accepted as a tenant in an apartment with subsidized rent, and through the Judy Center, benefitted from other support in the community such as holiday assistance and local food pantry deliveries and “pick-ups.” Throughout it all, Mary continued to grow and change.
Today, Mary is employed as a CNA, living in her own apartment and supporting and enjoying her children. The eldest child is now in first grade, having completed school work that is “on grade level,” while the remaining siblings prepare for kindergarten (the middle child met all benchmarks in prekindergarten last year) and to enroll in a Judy Center partner full-day child care program. The family continues to be part of Judy Center events. Mary recently began engaging in other community activities such as volunteering at her local church and for her daughter’s local Girl Scout troop. As a result of Mary’s determination and the support from the Judy Center Partnership, she and her children have the new, self-sufficient life she hoped for.
Measuring the success of a Judy Center is often dependent upon the effectiveness of the collaboration it maintains with its local agencies, organizations and business partners. Judy Centers share their knowledge and expertise throughout their counties. For the past five years, the Allegany County Judy Center has been instrumental in sponsoring the Allegany County School Readiness Fair in collaboration with community partners. Deborah Kolb, Coordinator for the Allegany County Judy Center, reports on the success of this countywide opportunity for families with young children.
The 5th Annual Allegany County School Readiness Fair was again a huge success. In the past, the event was organized by the Judy Center and Head Start, but this year the center was joined by the Allegany County Public Library System. More than 30 community partners gathered at the Country Club Mall this past March to provide information for families regarding school readiness. It is estimated that more than 2,000 people attended the fair.
Head Start organized games for the entire family, and the local Judy Center handed out free books along with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten school readiness packets. Library personnel signed people up for library cards and read stories on carpeted areas in several locations at center court. Library staffers also dressed up in storybook costumes and walked around getting their pictures taken with children, and they also did face painting. The Health Department was represented by their mental health, dental health and WIC programs; school nurses; and the MD Coalition. The Lions Club provided free vision screenings. Other participants included child care providers, PNC Bank, the YMCA, the Children’s League, Western Maryland Hospital’s Assisters Program, University of MD Extension, the Child Abuse Task Force, and Jane’s Place, an organization that assists abused women and children. Representatives from Allegany County Public Schools included Adult Education, Infants & Toddlers Program, the Chinese Immersion Program and Family Support Services. Allegany College signed adults up for college classes, and a local radio station broadcast live from the mall.
This collaboration with all of the community partners continues to grow each year. The new mall manager, amazed at the success of the School Readiness Fair, immediately put in a request that the event be booked again for the following year. Collaboration and cooperation is alive and well in Allegany County!
Mary Adkins, Coordinator for the Talbot County Judy Center, recounts how a Judy Center gains the trust of families helping them to honestly assess and address personal challenges, and then through the Center’s available services assists their needs.
A mother of three young children ages two, three and six, with another child on the way, was at the end of her frustration level when she was referred by her doctor to the Judy Center last summer. She was overwhelmed, afraid and concerned about the development of her two-year-old son, who was severely underweight and possibly autistic. Mary Adkins, the Judy Center Coordinator, spent an hour on the phone just listening, while the mother broke down emotionally as a result of her many concerns about her youngest son and the new baby on the way.
Mary and Dina Myers, the Judy Center Family Service Coordinator, informed the mother about the Infants and Toddlers Program and made the referral, then invited her to stop in to talk, as well as pick up some activities to do at home. After disclosing during her visit that she was becoming very frustrated with her children, the Judy Center called Early Head Start and set up an appointment for the mother to enroll, then assisted her in filling out enrollment forms for half-day pre-kindergarten and for half-day Head Start so her soon to be four-year-old could begin a full-day program in the fall.
The Judy Center staff became her new friends and she began calling regularly to discuss various issues, finally disclosing her own fight with mental health, and how she was self-medicating. Finally convinced by the Judy Center that there may be other viable options for her, this mother agreed to seek out help and she was connected with Choptank Health for diagnosis and with For All Seasons, where she was finally able to discuss her own sexual and physical abuse as a child.
The mother also agreed to allow the Judy Center to present her family to the Tier III Early Learning Interagency Advisory Council (ELIAC) program, after it was explained that this group could help put extra support systems in her life and no one would “judge her as unfit,” which was her biggest fear. Through the ELIAC process, the mother was able to access respite care through the Family Preservation Program at the Department of Social Services for all three children, so she could begin to focus on her own mental health needs and prepare for the upcoming birth. In addition, the Infants and Toddlers Program enrolled her youngest child and secured an appointment at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute. The Judy Center was also able to assist the mother with child care fees so her two-year-old son would have the opportunity to be with children his own age during the day while she participated in Early Head Start. By the beginning of the school year, with her newest daughter in her arms, this mother of four and her family were “ready to be successful in school.”
Mary provides the following example of how a Judy Center Partnership’s collaborative spirit can help families realize their full potential even in the face of adversity.
Five years ago, a mother and father relocated to the United States with their three children from their native Peru. The father, a carpenter by trade, dreamed of one day having his own business. The mother, who loved being a mom, was very interested in becoming a teacher. Once settled in Easton, Maryland, they quickly enrolled two of their children, ages eight and ten, into school. The third child, a three-year-old daughter, was enrolled in the Judy Center’s morning Head Start program and in the afternoon P3 classroom as a peer mentor (the P3 classroom includes children with disabilities, as well as their typically developing peers that are considered “peer mentors”).
Later, when the mother became pregnant with a fourth child, the Judy Center staff referred her to Early Head Start which allowed her to learn more about taking care of her new daughter, as well as improve her mastery of English. She then began to volunteer in the early childhood classroom at Early Head Start. This is when she fell in love with early childhood education. She loved it so much that she enrolled in Chesapeake College and completed 90 hours of training in child care and became a licensed child care provider. She and her husband, both wanting to help their community, began volunteering as “community liaisons.” They often interpreted for other families when they needed to enroll their children in school or programs, or to settle a landlord dispute or other issues.
The mother began reaching out to other women who were taking care of young children in the community and along with the father began to bring groups to the Judy Center to borrow items from the Resource Center, and talk to them about the importance of children’s play. Eventually, the father would land and work two jobs, one as a carpenter and the other as a paid community liaison at the newly formed Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center. And despite his new work schedule, he continued to interpret for the Judy Center and even began inviting staff to visit the Multicultural Center once month to hold a “Readiness Baby Shower.” These “showers” provided an opportunity for the Judy Center to not only begin working with Hispanic families early during pregnancy, but also to expand its trust within the Hispanic community.
Unfortunately, the mother of the family started experiencing unusual symptoms and could barely get out of bed. She would later be diagnosed with Lupus rendering her homebound. With the father gone long hours of the day and working in the evenings, taking care of the baby was no longer possible and so he turned once again to the Judy Center for help. Staff quickly enrolled the family in its Childcare GAP Assistance Program (tuition assistance) and contacted a child care partner to enroll the two-year-old. The father continues to work and care for his family with support from the Judy Center and, in turn, he “pays the assistance forward” helping other families discover the Judy Center and assisting them with accessing partner programs within the community.
Margo Champion, Coordinator of the Judy Centers in Charles County, contributes a compelling story about a family that went from homeless and hopeless, to a stable living environment, employment, and a family plan for the future. This story demonstrates the power of a Judy Center when each staff person, especially the family service coordinator, as well as multiple partners, collaborate closely to meet all the needs of a family.
This case began in 2010, when the family, who then lived in the C. Paul Barnhart Elementary School zone, one of the three schools served by the Judy Center, first approached the Center for aid. The family consisted of a single mom with three young children – a rising kindergartner, a three-year-old and a three-month-old. The three-year-old son was being asked to leave the full-day public school program for three-year-olds because of his behavior. Because it was deemed that the son was not socially or emotionally ready for the 3s program, the family contacted Dennis Hillian, the Judy Center Family Service Coordinator for assistance. “Mr. Dennis,” as he is affectionately known, offered the family tuition assistance for the son to attend child care.
Mr. Dennis would soon learn that the family’s residential life was very unstable; they had just moved from a hotel to the homeless shelter. While living at the homeless shelter, Mr. Dennis and Treeci Bond, Judy Center behavior therapist, visited the family to help with their emotional well-being. Theresa Osborne, the Judy Center Health Services Facilitator, arranged for dental, vision and hearing screenings. The family was eventually able to obtain a housing voucher and moved into a town home. Mr. Dennis helped move them into their new home, and he reports that this action is what gained the mom’s total trust in him and the Judy Center.
Once the family’s move into their new home was complete, the Judy Center really had to step up its work. The mother of three had never lived alone and had no idea how to cook meals, keep the house clean, or much else about running a household. Shortly after she moved in, Mr. Dennis referred her to the Center for Children’s Family Resource Center. They accompanied him to the home twice a week for a few weeks. Together, they rearranged the house and showed her how to keep it clean. The Family Resource Center showed her some quick, healthy meals that were easy to prepare. Over the years, the family has been referred to several other Judy Center partners for support, including dental services; Department of Health; Department of Social Services; behavior services; child tutoring; summer programs; Big Brothers; mentoring from various sources; Health Partners; Child Find; KinderCare; Lions Club; LensCrafters; Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; College of Southern Maryland; several food banks; and the Judy Center always helps them during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Today, this family’s situation is much improved as the mother is employed part-time at a local restaurant. The children are now in pre-kindergarten, second grade and fourth grade, and all are thriving. Although Mom is doing well and moving in a positive direction, Mr. Dennis remains vigilant in his support of the family. He is now working on a Family Action Plan to look at the future. The three children show growth each year and it is believed that the youngest will be ready for kindergarten when that time comes. Some of the goals being discussed for the Family Action Plan are obtaining full-time employment, adult secondary education or trade school, and continued support services for the children.
Mr. Dennis says: “The Judy Center has done so much for this family and yet it is so fulfilling to see the growth of this family. There is still work to be done but with the bond and trust we have built with this family anything is possible.”
Cathy Frazier and Michelle Matthews, coordinators of the DRU Judy Center Partnership at John Eager Howard, Furman L. Templeton, Moravia Park and The Historic Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary schools have found that through collaboration with local public libraries, community canvassing and mass trainings with child care providers, Judy Centers are “turning the curve” on school readiness.
These Judy Centers recognize the importance and impact of developing and putting into place activities that reach young children birth to age three in Baltimore City. The local public libraries are a valuable resource that allows Judy Centers to meet many children, parents, and caregivers in one location that they may not otherwise have met. Attending the public library story times, as well as providing their own literacy activities while there, Judy Centers are able to identify young children much earlier.
Community canvassing in communities served by Judy Center schools allows the Centers to identify additional children who may not be aware of services they provide. During the spring, summer and early fall, Judy Center staff, including the Judy Center coordinators, family service coordinators, and others visit homes, health and service providers, and businesses in the identified communities to leave informational flyers, and to speak directly with parents, caregivers and others about the services available. Parents and caregivers are provided with school registration information so that all children who qualify by age in the community can be registered early for school. Hang tags and flyers also are left at the homes in the communities when there is no answer at the doors, as well as on information boards at community buildings and businesses. As a result of canvassing efforts, there has been an increase in the number of children registered early for pre-kindergarten and an increase in attendance at play groups and parent groups and workshops.
Also during FY 14, the Baltimore City Judy Centers collaborated to provide workshops for child care providers and Head Start. The trainings were held at the Judy Centers at Moravia Park and John Eager Howard Elementary Schools but were open to providers in all five of the Judy Center catchment areas. The revised Maryland Model for School Readiness professional development was offered. More than 50 providers participated in fall and spring training sessions.
The following quote from one of the providers that is in partnership with the DRU Judy Center Partnership sums up the magnitude this Judy Center initiative has had:
“The single most important thing Little Flowers can do for our children to ensure the success of their future is to employ well-trained and qualified educators. Through the DRU Judy Center Partnership, Little Flowers’ staff has had access to valuable professional development training that has given them the necessary tools to ensure that all children, birth to age five, are school ready.”
-Crystal Hardy-Flowers, Director, Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development, Inc.
Cathy Frazier also reports on the transformation of a mother’s life through encouragement, opportunity and growth at the Judy Center at John Eager Howard Elementary School.
At the end of one particularly busy day at the Judy Center, a group of children were constructively engaged in activities such as reading or playing with toys and manipulatives, and the Center’s full-time mental health consultant was wrapping up a session with a parent. Disrupting the serenity of the moment, into the Center walks an unkempt woman wearing pajamas and seemingly, ready to explode.
She came to the Judy Center looking for her children and was upset over the miscommunication that went on between her and the parent who picked up her children after school. The mental health consultant and Judy Center coordinator were able to intercede and diffuse the situation before it escalated. And that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The Center’s mental health consultant from the University of Maryland Center for Infant Study contacted the mother to let her know that the Judy Center’s doors were always open to support children and families. Several months following that communication, the mother began participating in activities at the school. Soon the pajamas disappeared and were replaced by casual clothing. The Judy Center had witnessed an evolution take place before its eyes.
One of the responsibilities of the Judy Center at John Eager Howard Elementary School is management of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program. The Judy Center encourages parents to volunteer to distribute the fruits and vegetables to the children in the school. Parents receive a small compensation for working in the program. The Judy Center offered the aforementioned mother the opportunity to participate and she accepted the position. It very quickly became HER program. She did the planning for distribution and researched and suggested different types of fruits and vegetables.
As a result of the experience, the mother even intimated that the new role, “Gives me a reason to get up and get dressed every day.” From that point on, there was no stopping her. She connected with the mental health consultant who was instrumental in supporting her through the day-to-day challenges of being a young mother with four children. The Judy Center guided her through resume writing and assisted her with her job search. Because of the support of the Judy Center, its programs and services and, most importantly, the commitment of the parent to provide for her family and her desire to be a responsible parent, this mother is gainfully employed, registering for enrichment classes, and committed to opening her own business in the future.