Sowing Seeds of Success

Originally written for Children First’s 2021 Annual Report

A girl in a pink shirt that says 'girls have all the fun'

As former Children First students, Olivia and Malik Harvey know firsthand how critical it is to have access to a high-quality education from an early age.

Their lives are centered around family with three bright and vivacious children: Jeremiah, age 10, King, age 7, and Maliya, age 5. Jeremiah first began attending Children First when he was a toddler, and to this day, the Harvey family continues to benefit from its phenomenal services.

“When we had our kids, we knew we didn’t have to look far to find quality, affordable childcare with amazing teachers we could trust. It was second nature for us to turn to Children First after the wonderful experiences we both had growing up,” says Olivia.

With Maliya enrolled at Children First and their sons now in elementary school, both Olivia and Malik were able to work full-time to support their family of five. To further her involvement and advocacy as a parent, Olivia ran for Children First’s Policy Council and was elected by her fellow peers to help guide the agency’s mission and services. During this time, she also made a critical connection with an important figure from her past: her daughter’s teacher, Miss LaTonda.

One day, Maliya came home with an old photo. It was a baby picture of Olivia from her time at Children First! Although she could hardly believe that Miss LaTonda had kept the photo for all these years, she was overjoyed to be recognized as a parent and reconnect with the woman who used to be her favorite teacher.

When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, what had previously felt like smooth sailing came to a halt as Olivia’s job hours were severely reduced, forcing her to seek other employment.

During this time, she needed something that would allow her to feel professional and keep her skills up, all while offering Olivia flexibility to be a mom. Luckily, Children First was offering a Job Skills Training Course as part of the agency’s Family Strengthening services, funded in part by Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation.

The class was perfect because it provided a sense of accountability and belonging. Olivia learned about identifying and overcoming obstacles related to employment, resume writing, interviews, and ‘acing’ the first 90 days at a new job, which ended up benefiting her personally.

After a mock interview put together by Vocational Family Advocate Laura and her colleagues, Olivia felt so confident with the skills that she had learned, she decided to reach for a higher goal in the workforce. She was offered a Teacher’s Aide Position with the Sarasota County School Board at Sarasota School of the Arts & Sciences, where she has been working since January of 2022.

Her daughter, Maliya, successfully completed the Head Start program in May and recently began kindergarten, a major milestone where she is making new friends and memories each day. Her husband, Malik, who Olivia says always keeps her on her mark, is a well-known barber in the community with plans to one day open his own shop.

Because of Children First and her coach, Laura, who has become like a mentor to her, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. Olivia is in the process of completing her associate degree and will soon begin her bachelor’s, with the goal of becoming a math teacher. From there, she would like to earn her master’s and work as an administrator, with the ultimate goal of running for the school board.

Although the Harvey family still faces unique challenges, they feel grateful and are so proud of how far they’ve come. Soon, Olivia will be turning 30, and she vows to continue working hard to ensure she’s achieving her goals according to God’s will. With their roots planted firmly in this community, they know they have so much to look forward to.

Because Olivia and Malik were able to grow and thrive in a healthy environment at the earliest stages of their lives, the lives of their children have been transformed for the better.

*Special Note* Olivia was invited to share her story of success by the National Head Start Association to serve as keynote speaker during the 2022 Parent & Family Engagement Conference during the Policy Council dinner.