On a warm, overcast morning last week, Councilmember LaRuby May and a long line of community members stood across the street from a vacant lot in Ward 8. They grinned, wearing hard hats that read “Bright Beginnings Incorporated, ” and on the count of three the group plunged shiny gold shovels into the dirt. It was the start of construction of the new Bright Beginnings Child Development Center, which will eventually provide services for up to 100 homeless children in Ward 8. The facility is expected to open Spring 2017.
“Even though the future seems far away, it is actually beginning right now,” May said before the groundbreaking, quoting young poet Mattie Stepanek.
Bright Beginnings Incorporated (BBI), founded in 1991, is an organization dedicated to providing for homeless families with young children. They offer free daycare to homeless children, giving them a safe play environment and preparing them to enter kindergarten. BBI also connects homeless parents to resources they need for find a job and a place to live.
Jessica Proctor, a Bright Beginnings parent, joined the program in October 2015 and is now a regular part of the BBI community at its current location on New York Ave. NW near North Capitol Street. When asked to speak about Bright Beginning’s impact on her life, she immediately lights up. Proctor, who is currently living in a nearby Days Inn with her three children, is involved with Bright Beginnings’ home-based and center-based programs.
She credits much of her family’s success in the program to Bianca Lopez, or “Ms. Bianca,” who visits the Proctors at home. Lopez was selected especially for Proctor’s family by Alissa Tombaugh, who manages BBI’s home-based programs. “Ms. Alissa looked at us and said, ‘I have the perfect person for you!’”
During their involvement with the home-based program, Lopez would come to Proctor and her family and interact with them in their own living space. “We always start with a good morning song,” Proctor said, “And then she helps me teach my children.”
Proctor can think of many reasons why these visits have benefitted her children, who are 4 years, 3 years and 1 year old. “My youngest son is walking and talking a little bit now! And my older son, he used to count like this – ‘one, two, four, seven,’ you know? And now he’s got one to ten down and he’s still learning.”
Proctor is extremely grateful for Bright Beginnings’ willingness to meet her and her family where they are. “It’s hard to find a program that actually helps you like this,” she said.
The family also spends time participating in outreach programs that take place at the Bright Beginnings facility. Children are divided into classrooms based on their age, and are provided with a safe and stimulating play environment. As they get older – Bright Beginnings cares for children until they are ready to start kindergarten – they are introduced to colors, letters, and speech development.
In addition to offering child care and support, Bright Beginning’s programs and staff members help parents to grow as caregivers.“Ms. Bianca teaches me ways to interact with my children without raising my voice,” Proctor said. “And she stays on top of me. The other day we had a dentist appointment and she called me just to remind me to take the kids to the dentist.”
Bright Beginnings is also helping Proctor with her search for employment. “They let me come here and look for a job,” she said. Along with giving her a space to look for jobs, they help her with resume and application writing, as well as referring her to a Dress for Success program, which provides job-seekers with proper interview attire.
Proctor especially appreciates what Bright Beginnings has done for her children. Her daughter was previously enrolled in another local daycare and when being dropped off would cling to her mother in fear. “Now my kids cry when I come pick them up! They want to stay longer.” Proctor believes her children feel safe in their surroundings because of the people and teachers that they are around. “They make them feel really comfortable,” she said.
Although Proctor and her children will probably not interact with the new Ward 8 facility nearly as much as they have at the original location, Proctor is sure that the new building will be a huge asset to its neighborhood. “Way more people need Bright Beginnings,” she said, and other programs “just keep you going through the same cycles. Here you’re getting places. It’s a one stop shop!”