All posts by Team Ourhouse

From Homelessness to Honor Roll: Ebony, Seth & Sage

Ebony is 34 years old with a comforting and competent voice, the kind you’d feel better getting bad news from. Like many single parents, she works multiple jobs to provide for her two children, Seth and Sage. She is the manager of an H&R Block office, tutors children and picks up shifts tending bar and waiting tables when she can. And twelve years ago, Ebony was homeless.

Ebony ended up at a homeless shelter almost twelve years ago the same way thousands of other Americans do. One hurdle in her life led to another until they were cumulatively insurmountable. She had a small child and was in bad relationship. She was the sole provider and then became pregnant with her second child. Her family was also stretched thin and unable to offer much assistance. In an effort to get out of that relationship, Ebony was left with no help caring for her eighteen month-old son, Seth. Without reliable, affordable childcare, she couldn’t continue going to work and wound up in My Sister’s House, a shelter for women and children. While there, the staff told her about Our House and informed her that she could get free childcare for her son so she could work and get back on her feet.

Ebony’s son Seth began attending Our House while Ebony worked. Once Ebony’s daughter, Sage, was born, both children attended Our House where Ebony felt they received an education second to none. “The standards were so high…they helped me set him up for educational success,” Ebony says. She also stresses Our House’s focus on “meeting each child where they are and not letting their outside circumstances be an excuse or an obstacle to their success.” With Our House providing reliable, quality childcare, Ebony was able to get on her feet and build up her income. “With my childcare being a nonfactor, knowing that I had a place to take my babies, I could look to getting out of the situation.” Hand in hand with her Family Advocate at Our House, she was also able to move into permanent housing.

The support Ebony received at Our House when she needed it most combined with the quality education her children received has had ripple effects that have lasted more than a decade. Ebony is now living in Ohio with her children, who are now 13 and 11. Both of those children, who could have easily fallen behind their housed peers, are thriving educationally and are both on honor roll at school. And Ebony has built relationships that have lasted more than a decade. She is still in touch with the kids’ former teachers as well as other parents from her time at Our House. And she is bursting with pride at Our House’s growth over the years. “To see it evolve to become, on a physical level, what they’ve always been fundamentally. They were offering the same level of service in that little room in that little house…now they’ve got this big, updated, technically advanced space.”

When Ebony reflects back to the time in her life when she was experiencing homelessness, she expresses how fortunate she was to have encountered Our House. “Hindsight being 20/20, my homeless experience was a good one, it was like blessings all the way throughout. And it really started with Our House.”

Our House is now celebrating three decades of making intergenerational change in the lives of metro Atlanta citizens. Ebony’s is one of the many lives and families Our House has touched and impacted for the better.

Our House Announces 30 for the 30th Campaign

Our House is pleased to announce the launch of our 30 for the 30th Campaign! In March of 2018, Our House will celebrate its 30th Anniversary. That’s 30 years of changing lives and building self-sustaining families. Throughout 2018 we’ll be asking our supporters to give one particular item a month with a goal of getting 30 of each item a month. In the alternative we are asking our supporters to pledge to give $30 a month for the year of our 30th Anniversary.

January – Size 5 Diapers

February – 9 oz & 5 oz Baby Bottles

March – Pull-ups

April – Disinfecting Wipes

May – Infant Supplies (Yogurt melts, puffs snacks, stage 2 fruits and veggies)

June – Baby wipes

July – Boys’ underwear (2T-4T)

August – School supplies (construction paper, crayons, safety scissors, paint, etc)

September – Exam gloves

October – Tissues

November – Hand soap

December – Paper towels

36 CDA Students Graduate on December 15, 2017

On Friday, December 15, 2017, Our House held a graduation ceremony for our Child Development Associate (CDA) job training program. We can boast 36 graduates for this round of our program. We are so proud of our graduates and look forward with excitement to all that our graduates will achieve in the future.

The Our House Employment Readiness/CDA program provides homeless individuals with the opportunity to increase their knowledge about Early Childhood Education, increase their job skills, receive the national CDA credential, and embark on a new career path. Students also typically experience a boost in their self-esteem and gain confidence in their ability to become contributing members of the work force. The CDA course re-introduces adults to the classroom environment. It provides multiple opportunities for students to experience progress and success. The program positively reorients adults to the world of learning, which can inspire further learning after the program has ended. Past students have reported that completing the Our House CDA program motivated them to continue their learning in another, sometimes more advanced, training program. The CDA program enables parents to create new patterns of learning and completion that can impact their (as well as their children’s) long-term educational and employment outcomes.

Our House’s CDA program also contributes a pool of high-quality Early Childhood Education professionals to the field. In producing a well-trained pool of Early Childhood teachers who are not only well equipped to deliver quality instruction to young children but are also sensitive to the unique needs of low-income children and parents, Our House is able to positively contribute to the educational outcomes of Metro Atlanta childcare centers. As the level of instruction is elevated in area centers, through the placement of our well trained CDA-certified instructors, the corresponding rate of academic performance will be impacted. Thus, our CDA program has the potential to impact a large sector of the early learning arena in our region, ensuring that Metro Atlanta children receive a quality early start on which to build a solid academic foundation.

Our House Teacher Finalist for Georgia Pre-K Teacher of the Year

Michele Brown, lead Pre-K teacher at Our House’s Decatur location, is full of energy. With a ready grin and an engaging laugh, she seems perfect for the role of making learning fun for her students. And that’s her goal. She says her mission is to get her students to understand that “school is a fun place, learning can be fun.” She sits in her classroom surrounded by colorful selections of the children’s artwork, the Smart Board they use for lessons, and toys in bins labeled in both Spanish and English. She seems perfectly at home here in this sunlit classroom. But this teacher who seems built for the classroom didn’t start out planning to enter the teaching field.

Michele is from a small town in rural Indiana and started college at Kansas State with her major undecided. She took a variety of classes from a wide range of fields and didn’t think about education until a friend suggested that it might be a good fit for her because of what a wonderful mom she was to her young daughter. Based on that suggestion, Michele took an exploratory education class that had her in a classroom three days a week for 16 weeks. At the end of the class, the teacher she had been assigned to said, “You’ve got it. You know how to connect with kids.”

After that experience and finishing school, Michele realized that teaching was not so much a career as a calling. She said she felt called to work in low-income communities, especially with students who struggle with learning. “I’m going to be that teacher for all the kids who struggled, for all the kids who don’t get it, all the kids that weren’t straight A honor students,” she says, her face serious. She recounts her own experience in 11th grade where a math teacher belittled her in front of the entire class. “That’s why I teach. That’s why I do what I do.” She also has a special place in her heart for the children Our House serves; children from families experiencing homelessness. She says, “This is the greatest area where we can make the biggest difference.”

In her third year of teaching at Our House, Michele has taught Georgia Pre-K for a whopping fifteen years. And all that experience has paid off. This year, she was a finalist for Georgia Pre-K teacher of the year. It was a grueling process that included writing essays, submitting a video of her teaching a lesson, and participating in an in-person interview. Even though she made it through an intense competition and had her teaching skills recognized state-wide, she still makes it clear that the work she does wouldn’t be possible without Britney Michel, her assistant teacher and a graduate of Our House’s job training program. She refers to Britney as her co-teacher and says that they’re on the same page in terms of what they should be doing every day. “It’s like, let’s just go in, let’s do what’s best for the kids, make it fun for them, give them a great experience, so that they equate school with happiness and joy,” she says. Britney nods in the background while cutting out construction paper shapes for the day ahead.

When asked whether she feels like she has made a difference in the lives of the children at Our House, Michele is brimming with pride and success stories. She talks about a little girl whose mother didn’t even have her GED and how that same mom now has a GED, her trucker’s license and drives a bus for the DeKalb county school district. That little girl, “Deja,” is now in accelerated classes in elementary school. Then there’s the story of a little boy, “Moses,” who was living in a safe house with his mother and siblings after fleeing from domestic violence. Moses is now in kindergarten and his standardized test scores are the highest in the kindergarten school-wide. Michele acknowledges that it can be challenging to work with children who have experienced such trauma but is still filled with hope about their potential.

“They have to feel safe, they have to feel like you love them. [I]f they feel like you care, they’ll learn from you. So you never know which of these children may do great things. You gotta have that experience of someone showing you some compassion and love.”

And when she’s asked what she likes most about working at Our House, Ms. Brown doesn’t hesitate. “Our mission,” she says, followed by, “the families we serve.”

November 28th is Georgia Gives Day

This year Georgia Gives Day is teaming up with Giving Tuesday on November 28, 2017. Georgia Gives Day is an online giving initiative established through the Georgia Center for Non-profits and a network of non-profits across the state of Georgia. Our House will be participating in Georgia Gives Day this year and hoping to build on last year’s success. We have a $10,000 goal with a $15,000 stretch goal to gain all matching funds from an anonymous donor.

We know our mission to break the chains of homelessness is important to you and we hope you will join us on this day of giving and help us reach our goal. Please support Our House and give on Giving Tuesday at https://www.gagives.org/c/GGD/a/ourhousega.

Save the Date: Cocktails, Confetti & Cake Gala

The gala to celebrate Our House’s 30 years of serving the Atlanta community will be held on February 10, 2018 at the Atlanta History Center. There will be a DJ, cocktails, dinner and dancing as well as a live and silent auction to benefit families with children experiencing homelessness. For more information about the gala and becoming a host or sponsor or to purchase tickets, click here.

Director Cagle Visits for Georgia Pre-K Week

Bobby Cagle, Director of the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) visited Our House and read to the Pre-K classroom for Georgia Pre-K Week. We thoroughly enjoyed hosting Director Cagle and we are grateful to him for spending time with the children. Our House would also like to congratulate Director Cagle on his appointment to lead the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Director Cagle has been a positive force for protecting children in Georgia.

Shelter Renovations have Begun

Our shelter renovation has begun! Plans for the shelter renovation have been finalized and permits obtained. Construction began on September 7, 2017. Our House will demolish the existing shared bathrooms and replace them with private bathrooms in 14 of the 18 residential units. The four rooms that will not have private bathrooms will be short-term stay rooms – families will be able to move into other rooms when they become available. Two shared bathrooms will remain, for use by residents in the four short-term rooms. Renovations will take place in phases in order to minimize disruption to services provided. The renovation will take an estimated six months to complete, and we do not anticipate that the project will cause a significant reduction in our service level.

Our House established a board committee to guide the renovation project, which includes professionals in the construction industry. We also engaged award-winning construction management firm Silverman Construction, which has recently won a number of accolades for their involvement in the Ponce City Market project. In addition to our recent classroom renovations in Atlanta, Silverman managed Our House’s renovation project that added a new wing to our Decatur location, which was completed in 2009. Silverman Construction has a unique perspective on the needs of our clients and on our needs as a nonprofit partner.

 

The trauma of homelessness causes negative social, emotional, and health consequences to adults and children. By adding private bathrooms and restoring a sense of privacy, dignity, and normalcy to the lives of the families we serve, we expect better physical and mental health outcomes as families work through the traumatic experience of homelessness, and an easier transition to mainstream housing. We are pleased to further align our program with best practices in human service delivery in order to provide the best experience possible for the families in our care. The construction supervisor is currently estimating that the first phase will be done in December with the second phase wrapping up in February.

Bright from the Start’s Commissioner Jacobs Visits Decatur Pre-K

On August 31, 2017, the Our House Decatur Pre-K received a very special visit from Amy M. Jacobs, Commissioner of Bright From the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. Commissioner Jacobs spoke to Linda Stouffer of WSB-TV about the importance of Georgia’s Pre-K program and spent some time playing and interacting with our children. Our Pre-K children benefit so much from having positive interactions with so many adults who want to see them succeed.

Our House, Inc. Awarded Transformational $900,000 Grant

Largest Program Grant in 30 Year History of Our House

Atlanta, GA May 25, 2017:  In a powerful statement of support for the importance of early childhood education, a local foundation recently awarded Our House a grant of $900,000 to support high-quality early learning programs for Atlanta children experiencing homelessness. Over the next three years, the transformational grant will ensure that Our House achieves its strategic goals of programmatic and operational excellence. Grant funding will provide general scholarships for homeless children to attend Our House’s early childhood education program and will allow for the expansion of an existing partnership that provides daily intervention services for children with special needs.

Homelessness is a traumatic experience, and in recent years, research has become more and more conclusive regarding the effects of trauma. For children, the trauma of homelessness can cause developmental delays and behavioral health challenges that, when left unaddressed, become barriers to successful learning.

To combat the problem, children at Our House receive developmental assessments early on in order to determine their individual needs and assess the best way to prepare them for Kindergarten. Many homeless children have special needs that require intervention to be ready for school. In addition to regular classroom activities, Our House partners with The Adaptive Learning Center to provide daily intervention services for children with identified need for special attention.

Grant support will allow Our House to place a specialist from The Adaptive Learning Center at the Atlanta site for the first time, and will support continued service at the Decatur site, expanding the partnership from one site to two.

Funding will also provide scholarships to fully cover the costs of children not covered by Head Start, allowing Our House to continue to offer services at no cost for children who are most at risk of poor educational outcomes.

Our House provides shelter to live and education to thrive. The mission of Our House is to break the chains of homelessness by providing quality early childhood education and comprehensive support services for families experiencing homelessness.