April 29, 2021

Proud as peacocks. Yes, I know, pride comes before the fall, heard this from Christians most of my adulthood. And that’s been almost five decades now. But you know what? This is no boast, no brag, and no conceit. It’s just a great personal achievement. One that shines in tiny corners of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, and East New York low-income communities, not through me, but through others. Then expectant mothers and parents with infants and toddlers that have now reached adolescence, my last 12 years before retiring from full-time work, parent-child home and early childhood school readiness programs, a challenging journey, bittersweet, unsafe neighborhoods, stressful situations, families deemed at risk, physically and mentally exhausting, and poorly paid.

Yet those years hold my most rewarding work experiences. Most of the children don’t really remember it was me when they see me now. But they remember the stories their parents shared with them. And they relish hearing them again when we meet on the street. “Mom, look, hurry up, it’s the lady you said used to come and play with us.” And I love when they say “us,” because then I know that I succeeded in strengthening the parent-child bond.

Another child says, “Oh, you used to come to the house and play with us when I was little? What did I do again?” Well, we pass, and mom says, “Remember Miss Wanda?” You do know that as unwritten stories get retold, and as storytellers get older, the stories change a bit, don’t you? But you know what? That’s why they’re called stories.

A mom also excitedly shared how well her son did in a second-grade bilingual class, where he began learning a second language. And for show and tell of all the things one child could have taken to school on Fridays, she chose books, proudly stood before her classmates, and picture-read it first. As time passed, she read full-length children’s books. A favorite then, Caps for Sale. Caps, caps, caps for sale, 50 cents a cap. She now reads it to her younger sibling. Those were the days of fun filled learning through play. Although not all with peaches and cream.

A 17-year-old mom with a two-year-old son nicknamed, Fiddy, for the rap artist, 50 Cent, dropped out of program on her 18th birthday. Fiddy always greeted me, “Yo, what up?” Now at age 14, he and his mom tell me he receives Special Ed services but still struggles with literacy. I’m pleased that he is still in school and encourage him to just do his best.

When families showed up looking proud as peacocks at moving on ceremonies, I was often asked how I kept them in the two and four-year programs through completion. My response? Well, I show up twice a week, same days, same times. I ring bells, knock on doors. They answer, greet me, welcome me, and we begin. And we make it happen until their time ends. Such pleasant memories. But most rewarding is to see and hear from moms and dads that their families are still intact. No ACS removals, no juvenile delinquencies, only a few grade promotions delayed. The parents better understand their role and responsibilities. They embrace those skills developed through partnership with our programs, and they remain empowered to advocate for themselves and for their families.

Then there are the heartfelt three by three square yellow Post-It notes like the one that I received from a summer high school intern, 10 years ago. It reads, “Even though I was not here for a while, you made me feel right at home with such a good heart and being a good person. I bet you can make a homeless man feel rich. It was a blessing to meet you and everyone else. Just stay the same and don’t ever change.” And it’s sighed, “Shana.” She cried. I cried, they cried, we all cried. So you see, touching lives in meaningful ways is what I have strived for, and what speak for itself.

In tiny corners of Bed-Stuy, Brownsville and East New York, where many of us who share the home-based experiences still live, work, play, laugh, and even cry, while holding on and moving on to the next chapters of our lives, creating legacies that we build upon through sharing stories like these.

But this story doesn’t end there. Since retirement and pre-COVID, I’ve carried the same commitment and spirit of “let’s make it happen” into senior sites and nursing homes, and engaged seniors, young, old, and elderly, and sharing memorable life experiences. And we too, have laughed and cried together. Since COVID, we continue sharing stories virtually, Zooming in or phoning in once a month, same week, same day, same time, same link, same dial-in. I connect, they connect, we connect, we begin, and we make it happen until their time ends. And some seniors too, oftentimes, proud as peacocks as they share their stories. Thank you.

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