Shayna Smith and her two sons, Trevor and Marcus, were very excited to move into their new apartment. The move meant that, for the first time in their lives, the boys would have a safe place to live and play.
They had been living in subsidized housing and receiving SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) and Shayna had worked hard. But until Shayna enrolled her younger son Marcus into the William Byrd Community House, she didn’t have the kind of support system that prevents everyday problems from spiraling into crises.
“There’s no way I could have done this as a single parent without William Byrd’s help,” said Shayna.William Byrd Community House is a 93-year-old agency that has offered early childhood education with family services for more than fifty years in the Oregon Hill/Randolph neighborhoods. Its wrap-around family services provide access to case management and limited financial resources through an on-site social worker who works with the family to anticipate and address problems that can arise.
Shelia Givens, executive director, says William Byrd’s mission is to provide high-quality educational, developmental, and nutritional programs to children in the City of Richmond so they are academically, socially, and emotionally prepared to succeed in school and in life.
“Our first job is to ensure the best possible educational experience for the children,” said Givens, “and we can only do that if we also have a good relationship with the principle adults in their lives.”
At WBCH, early childhood education includes Head Start and preschool with extended day options for children ages three to five and after-school care for ages five to twelve; a summer camp session; nutrition services through Grace Arents Community Garden and Byrd House Market (one of Richmond’s first to accepts SNAP electronic benefit transfer); and, of course, comprehensive wrap-around family services. Its preschool education program is accredited by the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC), and currently the only one in Richmond rated four out of five stars by the Virginia Star Quality Initiative (VSQI).
The early education program at WBCH was a perfect fit for Shayna Smith’s son. Later, by working with the center’s social worker, Shayna was able to develop a plan to attain both stable housing and better nutrition for her family. They created a family budget that allowed Shayna to save the deposit needed for rental of a new apartment. By using the on-site food pantry at WBCH, the family saved on groceries, and supplemented their shopping with bags of freshly picked, nutrient-dense produce grown at Grace Arents Community Garden.
Finally, an outside resource matched Shayna’s deposit funds to provide the first month’s rent. So after eight years in subsidized housing, the Smith family was able to move into their own apartment and Marcus could spend his precious days in a top-rated, naturally supportive, learning environment.
“We have always worked to meet the families in our community where they are,” says Givens, “and it’s gratifying that parents continue to bring their children to us, generation after generation, to get this great start to their education.”