My name's Yvonne Andersen and I'm from Elko, Nevada. I was born in Elko, I dropped out of high school in ninth grade, and I moved to Niagara Falls, New York. When I was fifteen, my mother had kicked me out of the house. I was – I had no education, no job skills; I had no idea how I was going to survive.
I found resources in people just to kind of stay with and just kind of go day-by-day. That lasted for about a month. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I slept outside numerous times. I just really had no direction, no – no way of really finding out how to better my situation. I did come in contact with my grandmother, who lived in Nevada, and she did provide me a way back to Nevada. I stayed with her for a little while; tried, you know, working and doing odds and ends here and there, and really tried to, you know, better the situation.
I ended up having my son and tried to get past that, being, you know, a single mom with a child and not really having my own place to live. And I ended up having my daughter 11 months later. So here I am with two babies and really no place to – to go. My mother – my grandmother had passed away, and that kind of left me with no family, no means of support, no positive anything to really fall back on.
When my children were very small, I found the Early Head Start. I had enrolled them thinking that they could help me during the day so that I could try to work and at least go back to school, because I had no education. I… The kids went into Early Head Start. I was then able to work on my – my G.E.D. and get at least that far in my education when – so when I did, you know, look for a job I could say I at least had something.
And – my children were in the Early Head Start; they were very, very positive support. They helped me through my schooling, they helped me try to find jobs, they helped me how to make resumes. They – they helped me to learn how to be self-sufficient and to help me start to provide for myself, as well as my children. Eventually that led up to them transitioning from Early Head Start into Head Start. And I was able to find my own apartment.
I was able to become, you know, independent and have things for myself and for my children. And that's something I would have never learned on my own if I hadn’t had the positive support and guidance from the teachers, family advocates, and – and the whole staff from Early Head Start. It really showed me how to become self-sufficient and independent, and to avoid the situations and kind of get past the hard times when I thought that nothing would matter.
My daughter was eight months old when she was a victim of child abuse. She sustained close head injury that left her with a visual impairment, and she will have this visual impairment for the rest of her life. I had turned to Early Head Start with a child with a disability having absolutely no idea what to do, how to… Is she going to learn differently? Is she going to interact with the kids differently? Is this going to affect her, you know, throughout school?
And when she was enrolled, she worked with early intervention services, she worked with her PT. She had a lot of guidance and support from the services in Early Head Start, and it really showed me that even though she has this disability it doesn’t have to interfere with how she develops, how she acts with children, how she grows and eventually develops into the person that she is going to be regardless of her limitations. And I feel that Early Head Start really opened up the window for her to have those opportunities in life that I may not have been aware of. I may have sheltered her from that learning experience if I wasn’t aware of how we can interact with her and how we can help her through that time.
And that was a very, very big point in my life, because I was lost. I had no idea about the – the early intervention services, how they help families. They came into my home, they helped me, you know, make sure that I was emotionally there, because it was such a hard time when my grandmother had passed away. Here I was again with two kids and nowhere to go. And they really helped me, emotionally, figure out what's important, how we can get through it, how we can stay strong for the kids, and how the kids react and how they can, you know, evolve from a bad situation as long as we teach ourselves how to help us through and have that positive support, and have people there that care about us and know that they want us to make it.
They want us to be successful and they want our children to be successful. And having them work with me, too, to help me be positive for my kids was the biggest support because I – I wasn’t aware that my children feel my emotions, that they can play off of my emotions. When I’m upset, you know, they could be upset, and I – I wasn’t aware of that at that time. And it’s a very, very positive time in my life to have that support and to have somebody care about us and say, you know, you can do this, we can – we can work through this, and to show me how to engage with my children and have – have a more positive, you know, home – home life. And – and to – to really become self-sufficient. And that was – that was very important to me.
And the Head Start of Northeastern Nevada was my center -- my Early Head Start and for my Head Start, and my children flourished.
Yvonne’s Story: Explore Information
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In homelessness, common practices that we found – a lot of the families really don’t have a support system, so that’s something you really need to identify. Number two is, really, these people want changes. You know, there’re hard times right at this point; maybe they just recently lost their job. Most of the families we’ve encountered, it’s just something that recently has happened to them. So change is – you know, they’re very willing, they just need the support. And they really don’t have access to what the community agencies can also help them. But we’ve had a lot of great success stories with these families. Initially, maybe they didn't – initially weren’t entitled to a full-day class and we gave them a chance, and they’re really thriving now.
Homeless children and families in Head Start and Early Head Start – things that I found that are helpful is compassionate, encouraging, support. A lot of those families, you know, they just need the guidance, the community outreach. And giving them that chance to be successful and helping them with education of their children is – is invaluable to them.
When they transition to Head Start, I think continuity of care is really critical; the family doesn’t have to start all over with a different case worker or a different group of – of employees or staff, you know. It’s just very streamlined. You can just continue to move forward in making great progress.
Three ways to support families experiencing homelessness
The top three things in building a homeless agenda that I think are important to remember are: 1) is, you know, making these families a priority for your organization or in your selection committee process; 2) is remembering these people want change and so they just need the guidance and support to get there; and 3) would be, you know, really partnering with your community agencies and helping them attain what they need to do to get out of homeless, and making it manageable for them. The goals need to be obtainable. They're families that do get overwhelmed very easily since they are such high risk, but the rewards for that family are very great.
It’s basically… One thing we found successful at our agency is really working together as a team and case managing and bringing in your health manager, your child and family service manager, your family advocates, your teachers, and then any – any other community agencies that you think you’re going to need to partnership and, you know, weekly goal setting. These families, they get overwhelmed very easily. You’ve got to make it really manageable. Timeline on your goals. What you need to do to get here, what’s the timeline going to be? And make it as easy and as stress-less as you possibly can for the family because they are already in that stressful environment.
Your Task #1
Think about how you would work with Yvonne. What might you include in a family partnership agreement with her?