I heard her scream “Get out of the car NOW!” They were frightening sounds. Last week, our team and Mason West from Randolph School were meeting with the dedicated academic challenge teachers at University Place Elementary School. It was a hot and steamy afternoon and I had to make a run for iced tea at a nearby grocery for the meal afterwards. It was in our neighborhood-the kind where you have to pay to get a shopping cart that has been locked up to prevent theft. As I got out of my car, I was startled by the strident sounds of a young harried mother screaming at her two small children to get out of the car. It was painful to watch and I could only wonder “If we could reach that mother in Infant University early on, would her behavior towards those children be different? Would their future be more bright and could we help this mother be more patient with her little ones?” Their faces showed such fear and shame. The little boy had probably started school that day. The small girl might have been in kindergarten. Did they hear any kind words from the volunteers, staff and teachers that they met? What will their future be like? This mother had roughly grabbed the boy’s arm with such force that I feared for him and his sister. Should I have stepped in and said something to this obviously stressed out mama? I did that 2 decades ago and the mother got even more enraged, so I did not. I know that young woman loves her children, but she just didn’t have the skills to speak in a way that was more appropriate. Will those children be in the cradle to prison pipeline of poverty? I pray not.
Because of the generous opportunity given to us by Huntsville Hospital and the Jane K. Lowe Foundation, we are finally able to launch Infant University next month beginning with 25 families. I hope we can assist those mothers, fathers, foster parents and grandparents in a meaningful way. It will be a game changer if we can help them care for their new babies and eventually their young children like the ones I saw in the Aldi parking lot. Along with discussing the physical and emotional needs of an infant, this program encourages early reading and language development.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Wendy Yang to discuss our first upcoming Infant University modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone Baby College. Baby College is a very successful program started by Geoffrey Canada. Infant University begins Saturday, September 27 at AAA school and ends the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There will be 4 Infant University 9 week courses per year. Each session will be from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Our first class is made up of 25 new parents or expectant parents. Breakfast and lunch will be served.
Infant University will help these parents nurture and care for their children and get them all on a good start in life. We will provide dynamic speakers from many agencies such as the National Children’s Advocacy Center, Huntsville Hospital and offer the expertise of local physicians.
Wendy is very focused and motivated to take this project on. She has attended, along with our founders, Harlem Children’s Zone training for Baby College. It is certainly a best practices program. She graduated from Wellesley College as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree from University of Berkley. Her master’s is in educational psychology and she has worked as a school psychologist for many years. She came to realize during that work the importance of the foundation of the family for the child she was working with. It was obvious to Wendy that her clients loved their children but they didn’t have the resources or the childhood experiences to be more effective parents.
Infant University will target parents of children in our Promise neighborhood from expectancy to 11 months. Wendy would like to eventually expand the program to reach 3 years of age and this signature program will be the beginning of the Village of Promise pipeline. It is her great desire to build meaningful relationships with our families and follow them from cradle to college to a sustainable career. She is being assisted by our co-founder Gloria Batts.
What will happen to that young mother and her two young ones? We may never know, but we do know you can choose to make a difference and a promise, in this neighborhood, at this time and to do it for all the children that deserve a better start in life.