Stories of Resiliency, Equity, and Hope
2021 marks the 57th year since the Community Action Network was established to help minority communities overcome obstacles to poverty. This year, we celebrate Community Action Month honoring families and their stories of perseverance and courage during this disruptive and difficult pandemic year. As we collect, document and share the obstacles families have overcome, lessons learned, transitions and transformations, honoring remarkable tenacity and resilience, we encourage you to Share Your Story!
Stories of Community Strength & Resilience
Dreams for a Better Life
Rosario Tagre Garcia and her son Stewart came to the U.S. from Guatemala about 2 years ago, escaping violence and poverty in their home country. She began working in construction, and things were going all right in this new life until the pandemic -- when her employer lost multiple job contracts and cut Rosario’s hours. Consequently, while trying to find other employment, her bills started to pile up.
As Stewart turned 4, neighbors told Rosario about the Camp Washington Head Start program, and she reached out to CAA to enroll Stewart in the full-day preschool program. Meanwhile, in the midst of eviction proceedings, Rosario again contacted CAA to negotiate extended time in order to expedite an application for CARES rental assistance so she and Stewart could remain in their home.
Now, with that fundamental stability restored at home and in school, their dreams of a better life can take wing and fly.
A Beautiful Blessing
All her life, Kristy Turner had always credited herself that she had stood on her own two feet, but the challenges of the pandemic hit her hard – losing a job, out of work for several months, and without transportation to branch out for work prospects that were too far away. Despite her reluctance, she knew she needed to seek assistance for the first time ever.
Not knowing what to expect, she came to CAA for help with rent for her family. She received the emergency assistance that helped her overcome the urgent financial hardship. Surprisingly, what she also got was a restored personal sense of confidence.
“CAA was there when I needed help and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I got the feeling everything was going to be all right,” she reflected. “It helped me out in more ways than one. That was a beautiful blessing, and a blessing for a lot of families when there’s so much going on in their lives.”
As husband and wife, Khyan and Kimico Atkins have always believed they are stronger together, and they took that philosophy to a new level when they decided to take a leap and enter the Tech Works program together. Both had worked in warehouse and mailroom settings for nearly 25 years, and determined education could change the course of their lives. Saying this is a big undertaking is also a big understatement! They felt overwhelmed at times, given the increased demands of work, school and family life we are all experiencing in different ways these days. At the same time, the IT certification credential and the confidence of new opportunities and increased stability kept them pushing forward. Working as a team provided the level of understanding and support and motivation.
Hope for a Health & Stable Life
Vanessa Jackson has always been a hard-working individual, creating a healthy and stable life for herself and her daughter. Due to COVID-19, her regular and overtime hours of work in her career were cut drastically, leading to financial hardship in her household. Despite working through a pandemic, the financial burdens were too heavy. Ever determined, Vanessa turned to CAA for assistance. Thanks to the CARE funding provided by the Hamilton County Commissioners and a CAA Case Manager, she and her daughter could stay safely in their home and keep their utilities turned on.
LaTasha Heisel, a passionate caregiver, a fulltime medical professional, mother of two and a lifelong learner, had her sights on building her Veteran Home Care business one day. Latasha saw a need in the community for aging and disabled veterans, which inspired her to learn more about assistance available -- not only for her grandfather -- but for others caring for veteran family members. She researched programs and services, including transportation, housing, medical services, to learn as much as she could to aid her in caring for grandfather. Latasha wanted to sharpen her business skills, understand how to find resources that will connect her to a support network of advisors and she wanted to learn the full financial risk for the development of Nene’s Angels. “With the help I received from GCMI, they made my idea make sense. GCMI made the learning experience natural and fun; I greatly enjoyed Business I & II and Ice House. Without their guidance none of this would have been possible,” she observed. Nene’s Angels was launched in 2019 as a Certified Residential Home for Cincinnati’s homeless veteran's.
Child Development Is A Life Story
Kimberly Clack is working on her Child Development Associate credential in an online program, while also serving as primary caregiver for her grandchildren, ages 5-8. She loves children and has always wanted to be an educator, inspiring children’s emotional, social and academic growth. Head Start has been central to her own life story, where her children and grandchildren have flourished. One of her grandchildren has learning and nutritional challenges, which were addressed through individualized Head Start services, and as a result of the attention and continuity provided, he is now kindergarten-ready. The positive experience with Head Start has only fueled her educational and professional goals. “I really want to help kids, and don’t want to leave any kids behind,” she says.
Take A Chance
Like many of us, at the beginning of the pandemic, Montez Watson found himself with a lot of extra time on his hands, along with the uncertainty and lack of structure that came with the new lockdown life. He decided to take the opportunity to expand his skills in technology and apply for the CAA TechWorks program, funded by Verizon Wireless.
Montez had a background in working in IT, but little formalized training. He was accepted into the TechWorks program and was so inspired he did additional training on the side. After six months of dedication to furthering his education, Montez not only received the CompTIA A+ certificate from TechWorks, he also obtained Microsoft specialty AZ-900 and AD-900 certificates.
With this new skillset, he can begin his career path into cloud computing and keep up with current technology trends for companies. What's more, he is also coming full-circle and instructing the next TechWorks class!
"I wanted to show my kids that no matter what you're going through, as long as you are focused and determined, you can achieve the things you want," he reflected. "If anyone is looking to take a chance on a program that will help launch you into your next career path, the TechWorks program is the right program for you."
Talk to Malea Berry for a minute, and you know she is going places.
Like many mothers, when the pandemic hit, she had to recalibrate and focus on establishing different responsibilities and routines at home. She ultimately gave up her career as a pharmacy tech to become a teacher for her 5 year old son, Myaire. Being a single mom, she also gave up the only source of income in her household.
She soon fell behind on bills, and her apartment lease was ending with no renewal option. Never one to give up, she turned to CAA when she needed help the most. Working with Housing Policy Advocate Matt Strauss, she was able to find a new apartment, she received assistance with moving expenses and rental application, and she caught up on her mounting bills.
Without the constant stress of being behind in rent and bills, she could focus on launching a successful new career with a courier, transportation and logistics service while working from home. She is even considering how she might tap CAA’s Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative to help develop her entrepreneurial energies. At the same time, Myaire is now reading and is ready to enter the first grade in the fall!
"I have the power to stay positive and see the glass as half full. I refuse to be negative.” Malea declared. “Thank you to CAA and the CAA staff for being there and for fighting so hard for our community!"
Pay It Forward
To be a natural-born educator is truly a gift. Marie Davis is one of those special people and has dedicated her life to educating our children.
She began her educational journey right here in 1968 at the Head Start Program at Taft Elementary. Exhilarated by lessons all day in the preschool classroom, she would then come home and teach her younger sisters what she learned. Head Start inspired Marie to be a lifelong learner, and Head Start nurtured and prepared her for kindergarten and beyond.
Marie has earned an associate's degree in early childhood education, a bachelor's degree in psychology, and a master's degree in community counseling. She has spent more than 25 years in the early childhood education field, including schools in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
She has come full circle and serves as the Director of CAA's Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program -- the same program that gave her an educational start.
A family affair, Marie's Head Start advantage impacted her four adult children too. Although they did not attend the Head Start program classroom, her love for learning inspired them to be lifelong learners too!
In addition, Marie published her first children's picture book, 'I Love School!' in 2019, which is based on her wonderful experiences, as a Head Start preschooler. And in 2021, during the pandemic, she published a second children's picture book, 'Benjamin's Backyard,' which follows a 6-year-old boy as he learns personal responsibility and forgiveness.
"I am a witness that the Head Start program makes a difference! Head Start exposed me to many foundational experiences that prepared me for life. I feel honored to pay it forward and help provide quality early childhood experiences to other children and families. I want to give them the same Head Start that I received." - Marie Davis
To learn more about Marie's books, visit mariejanellebooks.com.
The Calling To Give Back
The calling to give back to her community inspired Shannon Stewart to become a Master Teacher for Community Action Agency’s Head Start in Millvale. And that inspiration has kept her going throughout the pandemic.
With a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Family Relations, Shannon was poised to engage with students, both virtually and in person.
Her enthusiasm helped her quickly learn new technology, start reaching out to parents more for one-on-one meetings and prepare our students for kindergarten.
When the pandemic hit, Shannon looked directly around her to see who might need help. She began bringing food from the CAA Mobile Food Pantry to her neighbors who were struggling at the time.
"I tell people all of the time: you can do it,” Shannon reflected. “I've been on the receiving end of assistance programs, I’ve been labeled homeless, and you can do it. Just keep trying. We’re all in this together. We are a community!”
On the personal front, through a first-time homebuyers class offered by CAA Shannon gained the tools to recently close on her first home, where she looks forward to putting her own personal stamp on it -- baking cupcakes and decorating her walls with treasures from our local thrift stores.
A Champion for Clients
Tonyetta Cruse wanted to be a part of something special. Something that would make a difference and something she could be proud of in her life.
That something brought her to Community Action Agency 12 years ago. Initially coming to CAA to work in Head Start, she quickly found her passion beyond the classroom. She jumped at an opportunity to transition to the CAA HEAP (Home Energy Assistance Program) department, championing stability and success in everyday life for client families.
Starting as a Client Screener, she took her time watching and learning from others. Soon she was promoted to Intake Specialist and then to HEAP Quality Assurance Coordinator. And that opportunity for growth, paired with the impact she has had on clients, is what keeps her motivated.
“We do great work in the HEAP Department. When the pandemic hit, we never stopped working. We see clients from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, only in a different way now. We enjoy helping people and lifting them up,” she observed.
When Tonyetta isn’t supporting clients, she focuses on her self-care through audiobooks, traveling, and adding to her makeup collection.
The Humble Life Long Learning Works of Lois Eddings
What a life it had been at CAA for Ms. Lois Eddings. For 51 years, she humbly taught our children and fulfilled our mission.
Her time with the Community Action Agency allowed her to provide for her own children and become a nurturer to many more throughout the Greater Cincinnati area. She recalls, “I remember in 1964, the year CAA was founded; my oldest son Andre was a child who participated in the Summer Pilot Program for Head Start. At that time, I had no idea that that experience would launch my personal lifetime commitment to this agency.”
Ms. Lois was honored to work with a program created to provide children an early advantage while pursuing their educational journey. The skills and strategies that she instilled afforded them beautiful opportunities to grow mentally, emotionally, and physically.
She watched children make important vocabulary, spelling, word recognition, and behavioral and social developmental advancements during their time in our program.
Over the years, she saw many changes put in place to raise the standards and expectations of our centers, teachers, support staff, and all involved. "Our mission, centering on improving lives from cradle to career, has been the foundation of the holistic approach I embodied during my past five decades here...If not for such a strong sense of community, opportunity, solutions, entrepreneurship, and goals, I do not believe I could have survived the test of time."
“Times have changed so much within the past year that I now fully know it is my time to say 'Thank you', but not goodbye. As many of you know, I can’t stop serving and caring for children. With that, I will take this time and use it to reflect on the next chapter of my life and keep serving my community. Just know CAA has been the longest chapter of my life. All of you, the families, children, colleges, supervisors, support staff, and all whom I have come to know and love… will always be a part of who I am.”
We express our deepest gratitude to Ms. Lois for 51 years of humble service.