Driving around her neighborhood one day, Shirley turned down a street she had never seen before. “I drove by this big building called ‘Neighborhood House’ and wondered what it was,” remembered Shirley.
Shirley went inside and learned that Neighborhood House is a community center that serves people of all ages and income levels through programs like early child care, after-school programming, adult education, and parenting support.
“I signed my kids up that same day,” remembered Shirley.
Shirley and her partner, Robert, were in need of reliable, close-to-home childcare and fun educational opportunities for her family, and Neighborhood House provided just that. When Shirley gave birth to premature twins Faith and Grace, they knew they would need extra support.
Due to complications from pregnancy and prematurity, Faith and Grace struggled with their gross motor skills, like sitting up, drinking, swallowing, and holding down solid food. As they grew, they were behind on developmental milestones like walking and speaking.
Neighborhood House was there to help. At just 6 weeks old, Faith and Grace were enrolled in the United Way-funded Early Head Start program, geared toward families of children with special needs and those families who may have an income below the federal poverty level.
“Early intervention is the most effective way to catch kids up to their peers,” said Jim McLaughlin, education portfolio manager at United Way. “That’s why United Way’s Community Fund supports programs like this one at Neighborhood House. There’s a momentum to childhood development – kids who are developing on pace tend to keep that up as they get older.”
Neighborhood House staff performed developmental screenings and recommended the twins start physical therapy to work on sitting up, holding up their heads, and swallowing.
With help from Faith and Grace’s teachers, Shirley and Robert chose Penfield Children’s Center, another United Way-funded program partner, to come to Neighborhood House to do physical therapy with their daughters.
“It was so great to have Neighborhood House help me with Faith and Grace,” said Shirley. “They helped me choose where we should get the therapy from and answered every question I had. They also provided scholarships for all my kids to participate in Neighborhood House activities when I was struggling financially.”
“United Way funding enables us to provide scholarships to parents who may not be able to afford quality childcare services,” said Executive Director Jeff Martinka. “We are as good of a resource as any in the region in terms of child support, preschool, and teen support. We couldn’t supply the quality services we do without United Way funding.”
Of children in United Way-funded early childhood programs, 82% showed improvement in cognitive skills and 90% showed improvement in motor skills.
Faith and Grace soon started hitting their milestones and catching up to their peers. “Faith is a little more stubborn,” said Shirley, smiling. “Grace started walking but Faith held back and just wanted to be picked up. Then I think she heard us talking about putting Grace in another classroom and she started walking right away - she didn’t want to be away from her sister!”
Now 2 years old, the girls are walking and have started speech and behavioral therapy to work on their communication. “The girls get a little frustrated, so they are doing behavioral therapy to learn how to express themselves while they learn to talk,” said Shirley. “These are all suggestions that Neighborhood House staff gave me to help us make sure Faith and Grace reach those milestones.”
Aside from the early childcare and developmental services they get for their daughters, Shirley and Robert love bringing the whole family to Neighborhood House for parties, events, and activities.
“I love it here,” said Shirley. “It’s like having a mom, dad, uncle, auntie...it’s an extension of my family.”
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