Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority
Housing authority partners with Parents as Teachers to break cycle of poverty
“All of our kids are at risk.”
Chris Yuhasz gets straight to the point when she explains why Parents as Teachers is a good fit for the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA). As director of strategic engagement, Chris oversees AMHA’s Early Childhood Initiative which has been offering Parents as Teachers services to residents since 2010.
The program builds on the commitment inspired by executive director Anthony W. (Tony) O’Leary, that community spirit and adequate resources will empower AMHA residents to become independent, educated, healthy, and self-sufficient.
“Our goal is to get rid of our customers, to get them out of subsidized housing and contributing to society through jobs and taxes,” Chris explains. “We have an ability to make an impact in our residents’ lives, and the biggest bang for our buck is early childhood development.”
That’s why AMHA launched its Early Childhood Initiative in 2007, originally serving residents at just a few of AMHA’s larger family developments. Today the program has expanded to serve all AMHA residents, 3,000 of whom are children under 5 years old. “That’s 10 percent of all children under the age of 5 living in all of Summit County,” notes Chris, “and we are serving more of them every year.”
AMHA’s program closely links Parents as Teachers with family outreach events which are designed to foster a sense of community around the importance of early childhood education and to serve as a recruiting tool for home visits and other early childhood programs. AMHA will hold 45 of these events during 2013, each one based in the community room of an AMHA development and each offering a meal and early childhood activities with other service providers on hand, like Head Start, the health department, and the public library.
“We recognized that parents couldn’t concentrate on parenting if they had so many unmet basic needs,” explains Katie Collard, community partnerships coordinator, “so we started by working to remove some of those barriers to positive parenting by linking families to services in the community. It really is all about relationship-building. You have to meet parents and build trust before you can do parent education. Without that trust, we will never get in the door.”
AMHA's four staff members who conduct home visits have found the Parents as Teachers’ new curriculum to be highly adaptable for different families and in different situations. “We really enjoy using it,” Katie says.
Although AMHA is federally funded, its Early Childhood Initiative is funded through private foundations, some state dollars, and individual donations. Its partnership with Parents as Teachers has been important to securing that funding.
“Today funders want to support evidence-based programs, but it will be at least five years until we can begin to measure the results of our program,” explains Chris. “It’s been great to have the backing of Parents as Teachers’ data. It really improves our chances of getting grants.”
We had our first home visit on February 4, 1994 when our son, Cody, was almost four months old. I don’t remember the details about our meetings with our parent educators (we had two), but I do remember that Parents as Teachers was a positive and helpful experience for several reasons.
My husband, Tom, and I were older parents and Cody is our only child. Although we considered ourselves well prepared to be parents, we did not expect Cody to be born 10 weeks early. We were very worried about his physical and mental development, and were open for help in any way we could get it.
I first heard about Parents as Teachers through our local hospital. I remember our home visits always included a simple but fun activity that we could do with Cody, and our parent educator would provide endless ideas for stimulating Cody’s development.
The evaluations provided reassurance that we were on top of Cody’s progress and helped with ongoing communication and collaboration with his pediatrician and physical therapist. If not for the recommendations made by our parent educator regarding Cody’s gross motor development, I believe it would have taken longer for Cody to get the therapy he needed.
I remember attending a few appointments about Cody’s development offered at that time by our hospital. We stopped going when he was about two because I felt the doctor wasn’t really listening to me, and I had to pay for their service. Parents as Teachers was free and offered through our local school district where Cody would eventually attend school.
As parents of a premature baby, I remember how the home visits gave us confidence and assurance that we were doing the right things for Cody. But most of all, I remember how our parent educators offered encouragement as we journeyed through Cody’s early years and showed us ways to GET INVOLVED.
Today, our son is doing great! Cody is attending college and is majoring in computer science. And we’re still involved, or at least as involved as parents can be with a 19 year old!
Would I recommend Parents as Teachers to other families? Yes! If you have access to this resource, take advantage of it. I believe all educational programs are important and that it is especially critical that parents get involved with their child’s education early on. Parents need to be prepared for school, too!