Imagine living in a run-down apartment complex without air conditioning in the middle of summer. Imagine wanting a job so you can move out of the apartment complex but you can’t afford child care. But you need a job to afford child care.
This is the reality for many residents living in Longview, Texas. Beyond that, there are thousands more families living below the poverty line in the East Texas community without education, jobs or resources.
Despite bleak circumstances, there is a ray of hope – in fact, there’s a whole project dedicated to it.
Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) is a preventative and early intervention federal grant from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that allows Buckner and other social services agencies to educate at-risk families on parenting and child development.
Shi Edwards has been involved in nearly every program Buckner Longview offers, including Jobs For Life, Fit Life and Faith and Finances, but she wasn’t so sure about Project HOPES. As a busy single mom of two young boys, Trent and Jermiah, she just wasn’t sure she had the time or energy to be successful.
“[Buckner case worker] Courtney told me, ‘Hey, my friend, Travelle, is going to be one of the parent-educators. Just meet with her once and see how it goes,” Edwards explains. “So I said, ‘OK, fine, but Courtney, if I don’t like her, I’m going to call you back!’”
Edwards laughs and shakes her head. “Honestly, if it weren’t for Travelle, I wouldn’t have stayed in the program, and I wouldn’t have been successful.”
Running out of options
Several years ago, Edwards moved back to town from Dallas, into a low-income apartment complex. Her youngest son about to turn 1.
“It was either we move here or we end up homeless because we were running out of options,” Edwards says. “I wasn’t working; I wasn’t going to school. Things were just a mess. I was doing really bad. My family was helping but then it was definitely like, ‘OK, we can’t help you anymore.’”
She found out about Buckner through its summer feeding program at a local apartment complex and built relationships with some of the staff. From there, Family Hope Center Director Jane Ann Crowson invited her to attend a Fit Life class to learn about healthy living and healthy eating.
When she completed that program, she decided to see what else Buckner had to offer. Turns out, it was a lot.
“I actually got a job because of Buckner’s help,” Edwards says. “So without it, I would probably still be struggling. Without a doubt, I think I would still be there. I might have gotten a job but it wouldn’t have been one that was good enough to get me and my kids away from there.”
Parents as Teachers®
Gregg County, in which Longview is the county seat, has one of the highest rates of reported child abuse in Texas, according to Project HOPES program director Michelle Heflin.
Buckner Project HOPES is a free program that connects at-risk families to in-home parent education. Parent Educators are the key to the whole program. They are adults, most of whom are parents themselves, who have been certified in a nationally recognized course called Parents as Teachers. The Parent Educator provides support and education for the parent while helping children with school readiness.
All of the subjects are prime opportunities for children to experience normal child development.
“When you’re raising your children, it just feels so great to be able to normalize some of the challenges that arise,” Heflin says.
Since entering the program, Edwards found a job working for a local fast food restaurant, has gotten married and most importantly, has seen huge changes in her relationship with her sons.
“Shi has always been driven,” says parent-educator Travelle Robinson. “She’s always had that determination. She’s always said, ‘oh, I’m going to provide.’ But I’ve seen more of a mom side come out with her children.”
Robinson has worked with the family on developing motor skills using found objects in the Edwards’ home, which is a key part of Project HOPES.
Edwards also has been reading more to her sons, which is a cornerstone of the program. She has seen a lot of changes in her sons’ behavior, part of which, she says, is because they moved out of their previous apartment complex.
“I go back and volunteer there now once a week,” she says. “I think it’s really helpful because most of the people who were living out there when I was living out there, the ones who wanted to make changes in the lives, they’ve gotten jobs and have started moving away. I think it helps to show others they can succeed, too.”
Story and photos by Chelsea Q. White