A hallmark of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs is connecting enrolled families to support services. Tacey Seymour, a Family Support Specialists, with Head Start knows what how important her role is to families. “As a Family Support Specialist in Head Start you may be the only connection of support for that family when they are faced with emergencies or a crisis,” Tracey explains.
Tracey recently shared the story of a family she assisted. Alejandra and her husband have two high school students and an infant enrolled in Head Start. As she normally does, Tracey was chatting with Alejandra and checking in with the family. Alejandra mentioned that during the pandemic, the family has tested positive for COVID-19. This was really bad timing because her husband was in the process of changing jobs. The joy and excitement the family felt about this new promotional opportunity was shattered when they learned about the COVID-19 diagnosis. This illness meant that dad was unable to complete his last two weeks on his current job and he was prevented from starting the new job. For more than six very long weeks- the family was without any income.
Looking for ways to make ends meet, the family faced the possibility that they might have to move back in with their families, in another state. With the loss of a job, the illness and now the possibility of uprooting their family and moving to another state- the stress was building. The holidays were also fast approaching – meaning one more thing was adding to the hardship. How would they be able to make a happy memory for their family during such a hard time. Alejandra explained that it weighed heavily on her and her husband.
Upon hearing this- Tracey went to work for the family. She was able to help the family secure assistance that would cover three months of their rent and utilities. “I was given the opportunity to assist this family by helping them complete the application,” Tracey recalls. “My partner in this effort, Nawal Apuna, was able to process the request. Together we were able to assist this family and make sure they could remain self-sustained.”
That sounds like a good ending to this story, right? You must not know the Head Start team very well. They just don’t stop at good enough. They are all in for their families. Tracey connected the family to resources for free diapers and wipes; supplemental food through food banks and programs close to their home that provided free clothing.
When we describe Head Start as being ‘all in’ for their families, we mean all in. The family was nominated for and received a generous donation of a $250 Fry’s grocery gift card. The children received donated stuffed animals and the high school-aged children received brand new book bags with activities. These items were provided to the parents ahead of the holidays so they could serve as the presents for the children. With just one conversation, Tracey was able to set in motion a series of actions that would take Alejandra and her husband from not knowing how to navigate this hardship to being able to manage it. Stress and anxiety melted away to relief and joy.
“When I spoke with mom, she shared what a relief it was for her husband that they didn't have to move - as her husband felt this move would hurt his heart not being able to provide as the head of the family,” Tracey said. “The heartfelt support our program provided become so overwhelming to him that tears rolled down his face.” Alejandra shared how grateful they felt to receive the abundance of support that her and her husband felt like they could breathe.
There is a very happy ending to share. The rental assistance was provided to the landlord and at the same time, dad was able to begin his new career path. By Tracey’s ability to be that connection point and tap into additional resources, she provided the family with a sense of security. By keeping the family in their home and the children in the schools – the assistance not only solved the immediate financial problem – it likely prevented a variety of other problems that children can experience from the disruption of homelessness and a loss of stability.
Alejandra provided photos of their shopping cart from Fry’s with a birthday cake for one of their children along with picture of their children with big smiles because "Santa" brought them presents. There was even a photo of dad wearing his gift - a Head Start T-shirt that reads "DAD MAKES A DIFFERENCE." Alejandra says that he wears it with so much pride because it reminds him that he is once again able to provide for his family so they are once again sustainable and strong.
This story is just one of many ways that dedicated team in the Early Education Division supports the families enrolled in Head Start programs. For more information on the services and support available through the Early Education Division within Maricopa County’s Human Services Department, visit Maricopa.gov/HeadStart.