When Ann and Dustin Miszczak first learned about the Early Head Start (EHS) program through ESD 112, their family was homeless and living with a friend because of a devastating house fire. They enrolled their 10-month-old daughter Calliope in Early Head Start and began receiving weekly visits from their Family Support Specialist, Brenda Starr.
“The support we received from Brenda was priceless,” Ann Miszczak says.
The family participated in EHS for over two years, during which time Ann became very involved in the program. She attended the EHS monthly play groups with Calliope in addition to the weekly visits, and in the final year she started to get involved with Policy Council.
“Ann came to one Policy Council meeting, and then at the next meeting she attended she stepped up and filled the position of Policy Council Chair,” says Tina Vessey, EHS program manager.
Policy Council is a leadership opportunity for parent volunteers in Early Head Start and the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP) to have a voice in major program planning, policy and decision-making. Through Policy Council they are able to advocate for the best interest of their child and family while gaining leadership skills.
“I only wish I’d become involved with Policy Council sooner,” says Miszczak. “Joining Policy Council has given me a way of being a part of my daughter’s learning experience, while also helping me understand the programs more and share them with friends who could benefit from them too.”
In addition to their regular meetings, once a year EHS and ECEAP staff bring the Policy Council parents and the ESD 112 Board of Directors together at the ESD for a dinner and training session. Parents are given the opportunity to share their families’ stories and experiences in the programs with the Board. They are trained on their roles and responsibilities of being members of the Council and how the two governing bodies, along with management staff, engage in a shared decision-making process.
“It’s a wonderful way to build a relationship between our Board members and our EHS and ECEAP parents,” says Vessey.
This past fall Calliope Miszczak, now four, transitioned to an ECEAP preschool where she will continue to build on the kindergarten-readiness skills she gained in the EHS program. Ann Miszczak is now able to provide leadership for both EHS and ECEAP in her role as Policy Council Chair.
“Her experiences as a parent with both programs and her commitment to Policy Council are invaluable to us,” says Vessey. “When our families really get involved with the programs that support them, it’s amazing what we can accomplish together.”
Miszczak adds, “Being able to go through EHS and now doing ECEAP has been a foundation for my daughter’s development. She enjoys learning and loves to share her knowledge with others. Having experience with both programs has been wonderful for our family–I wish I had known about the program when my other four kids were younger. The programs are not only amazingly helpful for your child’s development but they truly help you feel like you know what you’re doing. We all know as parents we can feel hopeless and overwhelmed. If you know anyone with a child prenatal to five years old I suggest telling them about these programs because they are well worth it.”