It’s tricycle time!
My journey at Porter Leath began with a tour by Angela Meekins, the Development Coordinator. From the moment Angela greeted me with a smile, I knew it was going to be a wonderful experience. Her eyes were bright and cheerful, and her voice was full of pride and hope as she gave me the historic background of the building. I was taken back in time to an unfathomable epidemic of yellow fever and an orphanage full of children. I immediately understood that Sarah Leath, a Memphis widower, had a special place in her heart for these children. I was awestruck at the realization that this woman made an impact in 1850 that she had no way of knowing would turn into what it is today. Now it’s a place that educates hundreds of high-risk pre-schoolers at no cost.
Now, I am the ultimate kid person and kid magnet, so just imagine for a moment how I felt when I learned that I would be hands-on in a classroom of my choosing! As we walked towards the Early Head Start building (birth to preschool age), I felt my heart rate accelerating at just seeing the sign on the building. I chose to work in the room with a little boy who stole my heart the second I walked in the door. His name was Jordan, and he ran up and immediately hugged me. In an instant we connected and I knew I was where I was supposed to be for the next three hours.
My two little kiddos and magna doodle buddies.
Two teachers, Ms. Breka and Ms. Marquita, were very sweet and made me feel right at home. I was immediately surrounded by five precious 2-year-olds vying for my attention. They shared their toys and lots of hugs. My immediate feeling was pure joy. My favorite part was when one of the children brought me a Magna Doodle. I traced his tiny hand on the board, and every time I finished (this happened about 12 times), he would gasp then giggle at the sight of his outlined hand. This of course led to a line of little ones waiting for me to trace their sweet hands. When it was time to clean up this became a problem with one little girl who couldn’t get enough of my tracing (oops).
Then came tricycle time. Having been in charge of my children’s education, I naturally wanted to teach them how to ride, but the teachers were already ahead of me showing them how to pedal and teaching motor skills. We had a couple crashes and traffic jams, but there were lots of giggles and happiness. At the end of our time, we spotted a huge worm (gross!) that captivated the students.
Eewww! A worm!
At lunchtime, I was amazed at the constant organization and how well the kids followed the rules. The lunch was healthy, and afterwards the kids brushed their teeth. I was really excited to see this life skill being taught, as this is something many of us take for granted as “the norm.” As I reflected on the day, I was moved by how much the teachers I worked with loved and adored these kids. It was obvious that it wasn’t just a job to them. They clapped and were happy when one of the children realized he could pedal on his tricycle. They were very encouraging and constantly praised the kids.
Where the moms use their points to purchase items!
After a short break, I went to the Cornerstone side of Porter Leath where I met Patricia, a former Parent Educator, who gave me a lot of great information about Cornerstone’s mission. Parent Educators work with pregnant women before and after they give birth, teaching them how to love and nurture their babies. They have a caseload of up to 22 moms and make home visits to educate their clients on doctor’s appointments and abstaining from drugs, alcohol and smoking. The moms can earn points to shop at a store for themselves and their child by coming to group meetings and making their doctor’s appointments. My first thought was, “Shouldn’t they just want to help their baby?” but some just don’t know how. While Patricia and I organized the store inventory later in the afternoon, I asked if she took her work home with her. She said it was hard at first to let it go, but she learned to leave the work at the door.
Yes, I organized this room!
I spoke with another Parent Educator, who told me her favorite part was meeting with the moms. She told me of one mom in particular who is pregnant with her fourth child and had been given literature on talking to your baby as soon as they are born for good brain development. When the Parent Educator met with her, the mom said she had never realized she was supposed to talk to babies and would start doing so. She said it’s gratifying when a mom has an “Aha” moment. This one skill would change the life of a child. Again I was astounded at the depth of love and desire to help that the employees have.
We are all from different environments and backgrounds, and I was reminded today that not everyone has parents who teach the life skills I take for granted. Not all people have been shown the love that I have, and I need to be more compassionate and understanding. It is easy to blame others for our misfortune, and I’m an advocate of making change for yourself. But today I realized that there are many who simply don’t know how. Something that seems so “normal” to me like talking to your baby was an alien concept to a mother of four. We all need a little Sarah Leath in us, remembering that it takes a village!
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