Kayden Williams grabbed a red plastic shovel. Holding it in his chubby toddler hand, he dug into a makeshift sandbox — a container filled with cornmeal.
“Oh fun,” said his mom, Betty Williams, 20. Her little boy smiled and dumped cornmeal onto a dropcloth spread on the floor of their Everett apartment.
Visiting the young family Wednesday, Adrienne Matthias watched Kayden manipulate other toys in the box, and spill more cornmeal. “You’re pouring,” Matthias said to Kayden.
Kayden’s fun afternoon with the messy yellow stuff was more than playtime.
After asking Williams if 19-month-old Kayden is using words — “he’s getting there,” the mom said — Matthias explained that the “sensory box” helps introduce a child to new textures and shapes, and builds muscle control. “Even just dumping it out helps pre-math skills,” she said.
Parents as Teachers is a national program that mentors parents through home visits. Most families are seen twice a month. Along with helping support parenting skills, the educator does developmental screenings and connects vulnerable families with resources.
To be eligible for the program, which is free to families, a parent must be pregnant or have a child up to 18 months old; be willing to participate for two years; and have challenges that may include homelessness or housing instability, low income, chemical dependency, mental illness, domestic violence or involvement with Child Protective Services.
The Boeing Co. recently awarded ChildStrive a two-year grant of $50,000 to support Parents as Teachers.
“We really see ChildStrive as an anchor provider of quality early learning services in Snohomish County,” said Caroline Maillard, community investor for eduction with Boeing’s Global Corporate Citizenship-NW Region.
The program helps parents “be their child’s best first teachers,” Maillard said.
Kathleen Lefcourt, marketing manager for ChildStrive, said Parents as Teachers is now helping about 30 families. “We have capacity to serve more,” she said. The program has funding for up to 42 families from Everett, Lake Stevens or Marysville.
“With the Boeing grant, we hope to expand the program to other areas across the county and increase the age of children served,” Lefcourt said.
Many parents come to the program through referrals from Housing Hope, Catholic Community Services, Cocoon House or other social service agencies.
Williams, who was 16 when her now 4-year-old daughter Sharmi was born, lived for a time at the Everett Gospel Mission Women &Children’s Shelter. She and her boyfriend, Bryan Cox, are expecting another baby.
The family lives at New Century Village, a low-income complex operated by Housing Hope. Williams and Cox graduated together from Everett’s Sequoia High School. She is nearly finished with a medical assistant program at Everest College.
She works as a paid intern at the ReNewWorks Home and Decor Store in Everett. The shop on Broadway is operated by the Housing Hope affiliate HopeWorks Social Enterprises. Days are beyond busy as Williams cares for Kayden, takes her daughter to a Head Start preschool program, works and studies.
“When I was younger, I kind of fell into the wrong crowd. I had stopped going to school,” she said. “Once I found out I was pregnant, I was done with that. I went to Sequoia and graduated.”
The young mom looks forward to Matthias’ visits. “She works with my hectic schedule,” Williams said.
While Kayden scooped cornmeal with a shovel, Matthias said that each visit includes an activity, plus a conversation about child development. “We talk about discipline, sleep, coping with stress, and family well-being,” she said.
There are screenings to gauge a tot’s communication and motor skills, emotional development and problem solving.
Matthias brings her expertise, along with activities for Kayden. She answers questions, offers meal ideas and other advice. Most of all, she gives a mother a boost of confidence.
“We want to look at the strengths of every family,” Matthias said. And with a smile at Williams, she added “You’re the expert on your child, not me.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
ChildStrive (formerly Little Red School House) is a nonprofit organization based at Children’s Village, 14 E. Casino Road in Everett. It supports families with children, 18 months to 5 years old, who have disabilities, delays or are at risk for delays. Among its programs are: Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, Play &Learn groups, parent classes and more. For more information, go to www.childstrive.org.