Two toddlers play together.
Archive photo

For nearly 15 years, Bright Beginnings has been providing a wide variety of programs aimed at serving the educational, social and physical needs of Washington’s most vulnerable citizens: homeless children between the ages of 6weeks and 5 years. 

Bright Beginnings, which now is housed in the Perry School Community Center at 128 M Street, NW, also offers a holistic approach by providing support services to the children’s parents as they move toward stability and independence. 

Part of that approach is doing everything possible to keep families united. 

“We will always try to keep all a family’s children at one facility,” said Bright Beginnings development specialist Lindsay Waldrop. 

The center-one of only two facilities in the Washington area that serve homeless children-was started by the Junior League of Washington in 1991 with 24 children in the basement of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA. 

In its current home, Bright Beginnings offers free, full-day, year-round and developmentally appropriate care for about 150 children. The building, once the first African-American high schools in the city, was rescued and restored though neighborhood efforts and features large, fully equipped classrooms. 

The center also provides abundant activities, experiences, love and professional staff, all of which create a safe and secure environment to prepare the families and children for the many challenges they face. 

Bright Beginning’s staff includes a team of educators and social workers, along with a family specialist, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a child psychologist and other enrichment professionals. 

“All the staff love and care for the children,” said one parent aide who has been volunteering in a classroom for several months. 

Because the homeless parents’ transience has affected their children’s adjustment. Bright Beginnings prepares the children to enter kindergarten n ready to learn and succeed. 

In the classrooms, Bright Beginnings provides a 5-to-1 ratio of students to teachers. All the teachers are certified, and all lead teachers have a least a degree in early childhood education. The teachers also provide training for lay instructors. 

“I have never experienced teachers who are so committed and care so much for the children,” said a teacher who has worked at Bright Beginnings for one years. 

The teachers and other Bright Beginnings professionals offer a wide array of programs for the children and their parents. They range from preschool, infant/toddler and on-site therapeutic service programs to parental involvement, transitional services and enrichment programs. 

In the preschool program, children ages 2 ½ to 5 have the opportunity to make their own plans, carry them out, and reflect on the results, all with appropriate adult support and care. 

Adults monitor each child’s progress based on a set of key experiences. The adults rely on those experiences as tools to advance each child’s progress. 

The infant/toddler program serves the youngest children-6 to 30 weeks and revolves around the active-learning approach. This program encourages child initiative in the mastery of key experiences. 

On-site therapeutic services address the delays in development of language, motor and social skills of children who suffer from the ramifications of poor nutrition, exposure to violence and the chronic stress of poverty. 

At the same time, Bright Beginnings encourages parents to become involved in their children’s education. 

“I am overwhelmed by Bright Beginnings, by the teachers’ time and patience,” said one parent aide. 

“Working here helps me to build my parenting skills,” the parent added. “I would not trade this experience.” 

Another program-transitional services-addresses the effects that the challenges of homelessness have on families, especially the children. 

Finally, the enrichment program provides cultural activities for the families.  

All of these diverse services at Bright Beginnings, along with the cheerful and giving demeanor of the professional and lay staff, are producing a profitable investment in the future of the parents, the children and the community. 

Allison, a Bright Beginnings social worker, recounted one success story. “One homes family came in 2003, and through job training and educational services facilitated through the specialists at Bright Beginnings, the mother has been able to sustain full time employment,” Allison said. 

“The mother is now a rehabilitation specialist, helping others in the same way she was helped via Bright Beginnings,” she added. “Her children have been sufficiently prepared for kindergarten through Bright Beginnings and the mother’s newly found stability.”