As a current Children First parent and as a former Children First student myself, I want to share how this amazing organization has changed my life, and so many other lives in our community.
My daughter Maliya is 5 years old and enrolled in the Head Start program at Children First. She is getting ready to “graduate” from the program and will be heading off to Kindergarten in the fall.
It’s hard to believe we’ve reached this major milestone, but with all the love, care, and guidance she receives from her incredible teachers, I’m confident that she will continue to blossom and thrive.
Children First has always been close to my heart, and the hearts of my family. My husband Malik, who I am so grateful to have here with us tonight, is also a proud Children First graduate along with some members of his family.
He is a wonderful support system and understands our shared mission of raising the healthiest, happiest family possible. Malik truly keeps me on the mark, and I love him for that!
Our lives are centered around family, and in addition to Maliya, we also have two other children, our son Jeremiah who is 10 and our son King, who is 7. 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.
My family has been involved with Children First since Jeremiah was a toddler, and to this day the entire family continues to benefit from its phenomenal services.
Our Family Advocate, Ernestine, always has a smile on her face that just feels so welcoming. She’s been there for Maliya and our entire family every step of the way. In fact, I know that even when my daughter is in high school, Ernestine will be there in a heartbeat if we ever need anything.
The teachers care so deeply about the kids, and they never forget a face. One day recently, Maliya came home with a photo from her teacher, Miss LaTonda. It was a baby picture of ME, because Miss LaTonda had been my teacher as well. I couldn’t believe she had kept it for all these years!
(Pictured: Olivia Harvey, on the right in a white T-shirt. Photo circa 1997)
I’ve also found a lot of support personally and as a parent. Due to the pandemic, I had reduced hours and was forced to seek other employment. During this time, I needed something that would allow me to feel professional and help me keep my skills up while at the same time offering me 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. I learned about identifying and overcoming obstacles related to employment, and there was a special focus on resume writing, interviews, and ‘acing’ the first 90 days at a new job, which has benefited me personally!
After a mock interview put together by my Vocational Family Advocate Laura and her colleagues, I felt so confident with the skills that I had learned, I decided to reach for a higher goal in the workforce.
I was offered a Teacher’s Aide Position with the Sarasota County School Board at Sarasota School of the Arts & Sciences, where I have been working since January of this year.
I’m planning to start classes this summer with the goal to obtain my bachelor’s degree and become a math teacher. From there, I would like to earn my master’s and work as an administrator, and one of my ultimate goals is to run for school board.
Because of Children First and my coach, Laura, who has become like a mentor to me, it feels like a whole new world of possibilities has opened up.
While I was unexpectedly unemployed but fighting to stay engaged, I was supported every step of the way – and Laura and team continue to guide me and my family on our journey to success.
Although we still face unique challenges, I feel grateful and am so proud of how far we’ve come. Our roots are planted firmly in this community, and there is so much to look forward to.
In October I’ll be turning 30, and I will continue working hard to make sure I’m achieving my goals according to God’s will.
Because Malik and I were able to grow and thrive in a healthy environment at the earliest stages of our lives, the lives of our children have transformed for the better.
Children First is a changemaker in our community. Child by child, family by family, the seeds that are sowed continue to blossom as they stretch higher and higher toward the sunshine.
I have never spoken in front of this many people before, but I’m at a point in my life where – I’ve been told – I have a lot to say.
As I look to the future – from sending my youngest off to Kindergarten, to earning my teaching degree, to raising my beautiful children alongside my husband and beyond – I know there is nothing to fear. Thank you all so much for your support, and this opportunity to share my story!
Pictured: Olivia and Malik Harvey, Children First and Head Start alumna.