Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Loughrige, Steepletown Preschool Director
The Steepletown Preschool invited the families of its 4 year-olds to come learn about the different kindergarten options available in the Grand Rapids district. Representatives from West Side neighborhood schools answered parent questions, gave out enrollment forms, and provided encouragement to these preschool families as they consider options for the fall. Grand Rapids Public Schools was also represented by Lorna Moody, Admission Specialist, who helped parents identify their neighborhood school as well as discuss the various theme schools available in the district. The support extended to these families and the extra effort of GRPS to walk alongside our families as they transition their little ones to that next chapter in their educational journey is very commendable.
This week has been bookended well! On Monday morning Steepletown’s Preschool Director sent out an email that one of our teachers, Nellie Fuentes, completed her Child Development Associate Credential or CDA. Nellie has been on staff at the Steepletown preschool for the past couple years, first working as an aide and more recently moving into the co-teacher position in one of the 4 year-old rooms. Nellie grew up here on the West Side and was in Steepletown’s youth employment programs back in high school. A couple years ago when she moved back to the West Side and reconnected with Steepletown to see how we could assist her in finding some employment. And now she is teaching the children of many of her neighbors and her nephew as well.
And now here it’s Friday afternoon and just a few minutes ago a text was received from another of our preschool teachers, Angela Zuniga, who just received word that she also passed the CDA. She took the written exam last week and completed the observation portion of the requirements yesterday. Angela was one of the original teachers Steepletown hired in 2013 when it opened its first preschool classroom. She had over 10 years of experience working in childcare settings and had taken many classes in early childhood education at GRCC. Angela also grew up here on the West Side and her nephew and niece are also current students.
There is a familiar expression that is often used by the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative which provides much of the technical and financial support for Steepletown’s Preschool. That expression is “growing our own”. Steepletown currently has two of its recent GED graduates working as preschool aides as part of their CDA training, and two current GED students also working at the preschool as classrooms aides. This is a necessary requirement of earning the CDA, i.e. 480 hours of supervised experiential learning in a licensed facility. Steepletown is intentional about providing these paid opportunities to these young adults who cannot afford to just go to school to become a teacher. It really is an apprenticeship model and seems to work well as Steepletown continues to “grow our own”. Congratulations to Nellie and Angela!!
The Christmas decorations are already coming down and many are remembering the Holidays as a thing of the past, especially now that they are back to the daily grind of work. And yet he Christmas Season is still celebrated for one more day. Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the three kings or magi, the twelfth day of Christmas! Three wisemen- Dominic (6), Colton (4) and Gavin (3) – who are three of my grandsons, visited last week for a couple days. We spent many hours at the Children’s Museum, found some snow on a hill for sledding, took afternoon naps after reading several children’s stories, and generally just enjoyed hanging out. Their presence over those two days was definitely the best present I received for Christmas!
Steepletown’s gift to the community is being present to those who wander through our doors.
Presence….last week a young man who participated in our Peace Club nearly 20 years ago as a kid and later became one of its youth leaders stopped by to say hello and to get some input on how to start a charity.
Presence…another young man stopped by who completed his GED at Steepletown a few year ago and now wants to begin an apprenticeship.
Presence….a great Aunt who years ago was part of the Woman’s Support group at Steepletown stopped by looking for bunkbeds and gifts for her nieces for whom she now has custody.
These daily encounters are a simple epiphany, a revelation of how God’s presence is still made known. Simple presence that offers support and guidance…this is a present we can give every day. Please consider how you can continue to share your support, your presents of a monetary gift to be part of the presence of Steepletown.
Guest Blogger: Jane Wolterstorff – Steepletown Youth Advocate
Here at Steepletown we often post momentous milestone moments as we celebrate with our students. However, these moments fail to capture the scope of time and effort of all the moments in between. So here is Elizabeth’s story; A story that spans three years:
I was a 16 year old who just had given birth. I dropped out of school to take care of my child, working part time cleaning hotels to support us. At this time, I didn’t have a driver’s license or a car. Was I happy? “Mmm yeah sure, could’ve been better though”.
September 2014 I went to Steepletown and started to work on my GED.
I had passed 3 out of 4 GED tests. I had one test left: Mathematics.
I was starting to believe I would actually have a graduation.
I had my little girl baptized! This was an exciting time for me and having
Ms. Jane, my Steepletown Youth Advocate, attend made it really special.
I also started a paid-work experience arranged through Steepletown at the YMCA’s KidZone.
I wanted to see how well I liked Early Childhood Development and discovered that I loved it!
The day after my paid-work experience was complete the YMCA hired me as staff.
Fall and Winter 2015
A difficult time for my family took up most of my physical and emotional energy and my GED took a backseat for a while
I was 18. I got my driver’s license. Not having to take the bus saved me hours every day in getting my little girl to and from the Steepletown’s preschool and getting me to and from work.
Steepletown connected me to a job at the United Methodist Community House to work as a preschool teacher’s aide and I also started classes for a Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate
I passed my GED math test. I completed my GED!
I am 19 years old with one child (and it’s going to stay that way). I now have a 2005 Dodge Durango. I continue to work as an assistant teacher at a preschool. I have completed my GED. I am half way through the CDA program. Am I happy? “ Al Millón so happy with life right now.”
We all have dreams. I talked to a young man today who dreams of owning a home and a car and sharing it with a future wife someday. Another young man said that he just wants to get off the streets, have a fresh start and make a living in a job he can be proud of. Another is a dad who dreams of providing better opportunities for his children. These young men who are a part of JobStart are working to overcome barriers and are beating the odds and are some of the most brave and courageous men I know.
We believe that these young men should not give up on their dreams. We believe that these young men deserve the support and encouragement it takes to overcome challenges and realize their dreams. We believe that these men are a gift to our community and should be valued as such. In them lies the potential to not only accomplish their dreams but to be someone who walks along a brother in similar circumstances to support them in their quest and change their community.
JobStart is an initiative that was birthed over two years ago by community stakeholders in response to extremely disproportionate unemployment rates and poverty rates of young men of color ages 18 – 24 in our community. JobStart is more than just employment training and it is more than a check. We are developing a community that transforms lives.
What dreams do you have and how can you be a part of helping these men accomplish theirs?
A young man that I met with today sat down across from me slouched in his seat, with his face downcast and said, “I’m tired”. He had just recently found himself homeless after a relationship went bad and was staying downtown. Just the other night he got jumped for the two dollars and four bus passes he had in his pocket. He was tired of the struggle. He was tired of people not having his back. He said he had thought about ending his life but what would he have to show for the life he lived.
This young man grew up in Detroit and moved to Grand Rapids with his family but in his time of need, he felt completely alone. He was tired of the picture that people had painted of him of being irresponsible and careless and then he got a smirk on his face and said, “I am going to destroy the image they’ve built of me”. “All I need is one win.” he said, “And then there’ll be another win and another win and another win”.
We talked through the opportunities that we had at Steepletown with JobStart and the GED program and he knew was meant to be here. I knew he was too. This young man has everything inside of him to be successful and have stability. I am thankful he chose to walk through our doors to find support and guidance.
As he left he said, “I will make it.” and I truly believe he will. This young man will overcome these barriers and the work he is doing now will help prepare him for a brighter future. A future where he won’t always have to struggle, a future where his reputation is good and even more important he feels good about himself and, a future where he can provide for his needs and his family.
In this season of thanksgiving will you take a moment to thank God for these young men and the work that Steepletown is doing to help them get ahead.
Ask Kristadiya, who goes by her middle name Starr. In fact, just go to the link at the bottom of this article and she will tell you herself!
Kitchen Sage has officially become a permanent ingredient in Steepletown’s efforts to further develop the skills and tools that young adults need to successfully enter the workforce. Just over two years ago Kitchen Sage located in the former St. Adalbert School. As the work of our two organizations continued to evolve, it became more and more apparent that by forging a more permanent relationship, we could leverage each other’s strengths and increase our effectiveness exponentially. Over the past six months that has been what has taken place. Kitchen Sage officially dissolved as a non-profit organization and has become part of Steepletown. As Chef Tommy likes to suggest, Kitchen Sage and Steepeletown are “two great tastes that taste great together.” It was because of this that Steepletown was then able to apply to the State of Michigan for Kitchen Sage to become a proprietary school. On October 7th Kitchen Sage was officially licensed and is now listed as a viable culinary training institute. Look for the Kitchen Sage logo in the windows of partner restaurants and institutions! And check out the Kitchen Sage Website.
For many of our students earning the GED is like attaining something that seemed unreachable! And yes, it can also seem like an infinite process because of the level of time and commitment involved. And yet it is what lies beyond infinity that propels these students to continue to strive towards achieving this goal!
For Nakeisha, beyond infinity is completing a CNA course and applying for a Medical Assistant Apprenticeship. These are critical steps in her journey to becoming a pediatric RN.
For Mychal, beyond infinity is studying at the GRCC M-TECH Center to become an electrician, the first step in his plan to earn an income that would support him through more school to become a coach for kids with tough lives.
For Alexis, beyond infinity is working full time at Spectrum Health. She is getting her foot in the door – so she can eventually move to the Phlebotomy Department and have her training paid for.
For Adolph, beyond infinity is studying at GRCC for an associates in Applied Arts & Sciences to stack along with his HVAC credential.
For Lucia, beyond infinity is providing childcare for the Family Literacy Center programming in two schools, with a plan to begin studying towards a Child Development Associates certificate to work with 3 -5 year olds early next year.
For Selina, beyond infinity is just completing her CNA course and applying to local hospitals. She also hopes to continue studying and earn an RN degree.
For Ezequiel, beyond infinity is enrolling into the Mechanical Design Degree program at GRCC to pursue his dream of developing eco-friendly alternative fuel options for motorized vehicles.
For Alayn, beyond infinity is enrolling into GRCC for general education classes, allowing himself the time to hone in on his strengths and work towards a career he loves, all while being a great dad to his newborn daughter.
These students are equipped with the confidence, discernment, and support to look beyond what was once considered unreachable. And we are eager to see what is then beyond ‘beyond’!
The Grass is GREENer on the Other Side…Steepletown Welcomes Harry Green!
It was just over a year ago that Harry was assigned to Steepletown as a Senior Volunteer/Traveling Grandpa through the Gerontology Network. The purpose of that program is to connect the talents of seniors with area schools or with seniors living in their homes who need the support of a companion. Steepletown’s assignment was a bit out of the ordinary but was more suitable to his interests in working with young adults who are trying to improve their lives. Harry’s official assignment is to work with students in Steepletown’s GED Program, but he has expanded that to include other young adults who participate in Steepletown’s workforce development initiatives.
Harry retired in 2010 as an alcohol and drug counselor after 12 years with Reality Counseling Services here in Grand Rapids. Harry readily admits to being in recovery for 34 years, which he credits for giving him the knowledge and foundation for his work which he refers to as Life Sketchers.
Life Sketchers is designed to help individuals who devalue themselves and feel they don’t have the ability to make positive decisions in their lives. It helps them to rethink who they are as individuals and to make better choices for their lives. Through weekly sessions the goal is for the individual to honestly confront the barriers that are holding them back. Emilio Zamarripa, Steepletown’s Youth Development Director, share these thoughts: “Harry has been an amazing part of our team. His facilitation of the 12 Step Model of Recovery is an excellent extension of support for our youth, and also consistent with the empowerment curriculum that we have built into our case management.” To learn more about Life Sketchers, visit Steepletown’s website or contact Harry at (616) 451-4215, ext. 106.
Steepletown Preschool welcomed a new Director this month. We’re thrilled to have Ashley Sweers joining us as the new Preschool Director beginning this August.
Ashley joins Steepletown Preschool with a wealth of experience in early childhood education, including time as a preschool teacher, and Head Start & Early Head Start teacher in Saginaw, MI. Ashley helped establish an Early Head Start program in Detroit, serving as Supervisor and Education & Disability Specialist. Most recently, she worked with St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Grand Blanc, MI as Director of Family Ministry, developing their youth, family and outreach programming. Ashley earned her Bachelor of Applied Arts in Child Development with an Early Childhood Education concentration from Central Michigan University.
“I wanted to come to Steepletown because of all the programming they offer as support to both the children and family,” said Ashley.
The programming at Steepletown Neighborhood Services provides a comprehensive support system for our preschool families, including GED services, workforce development, and more. Ashley is excited to help families better connect with the resources to help each family achieve new levels of success and opportunity.
While providing organizational and leadership support to preschool staff, Ashley will also oversee the start of two new initiatives for Steepletown Preschool. Crock N Roll, available this fall, will engage preschool parents in developing healthy eating and nutrition skills. Additionally, the preschool hopes to open its first two-year-old classroom in January 2017.
The teachers’ and staff’s passion for their work is evident in everything they do, and Ashley and the team are looking forward to a great year. Limited spots are still available in our three- and four-year-old classrooms. If you are interested in learning more about enrolling your child in Steepletown Preschool, please contact Janet Piccolo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-965-5825.