A Constant Positive Attitude

DSC_2730Natasha is the mother of 4 children with ages ranging from 14, 11, 5 and 3, all girls except for one boy, who is “all  boy, so he is a handful.”

She moved here 2 years ago from Lenior, NC, where she and her children lived without transportation or proximity to stores within walking distance. “It was hard living out there so isolated – I admit, I felt myself getting close to depression” she recalls of that time. She decided it was best for herself and her children to move closer to family, so she packed everything up and moved to Asheville, where her mother had been living for the past 10 years.

“Although I was happy to be here, it is always difficult moving to a new place where you don’t know many people. My children had a tough time, too. They were missing their friends back where we came from.”

In an effort to get familiar with her surroundings, Natasha started reaching out and asking lots of questions. She talked to the apartment manager and was told about the “homework club” where children could go after-school. She was very intrigued and immediately filled out the application and got her 3rd grader enrolled.

“The homework club” is actually the Children First/Communities In Schools (CIS) Learning Center, an after-school center where 20+ children receive a healthy snack, homework assistance and an enrichment activity. Located in two low-income neighborhoods, this after-school program is completely free of charge for families of K-5th graders who live in the neighborhoods, and through a partnership with Housing Authority of Asheville, the centers are located directly in the neighborhoods, thus alleviating any transportation barriers families may have.

Natasha recalls the first few weeks her daughter was enrolled in the Children First/CIS learning Center. “It was tough at first because my daughter was new to school and new to the neighborhood, but soon she was making friends and even found a best friend at the Learning Center. Now (2 years later) they are inseparable.”

Children First/CIS Project POWER/AmeriCorps team members run the centers under the supervision of a Learning Center Coordinator and with lots of help from community volunteers who work with the children on their homework and enrichment activities.

“My daughter loves the learning center,” Natasha says. “And it is a big help to me, too. Things are so much different than when I was in the 5th grade. There is some homework that I couldn’t help her on, but I didn’t have to worry about her because I knew she was getting help at the Learning Center.”

The Learning Centers also helped Natasha form friendships with the other parents in the community. “My daughter has made some really good friends – plus I have become friends with their moms. This has helped us bond, has given me a great network of friends–and it all began at the learning center.”

But things were still tough for Natasha financially. A single mother of 4 children, she could not secure childcare for her two youngest so needed to stay home to care for them. With little income coming in, she could manage the basic necessities, but had absolutely nothing left for extras.

She remembers her oldest daughter coming to her upset because she was having a hard time fitting in to her school and making friends. She wanted some new clothes and shoes to make her feel more confident, but there was nothing left after the rent, utilities and food was paid for.

Once again, Natasha reached out and talked to the principal of her daughter’s school, and he told her about Children First/Communities In Schools Student Support Specialist, Lisa Barlow. After one conversation with Lisa, Natasha felt like she had found a place where she could get that little bit of support when she needed it. Lisa and the principal arranged for some clothing vouchers for all of the children, and her daughter went to school feeling much more confident. She also came into the Family Resource Center at Emma to get food boxes, which helps her stretch her food budget.

“The food boxes and the clothing vouchers help take some of the weight and the worry out for me and my children. It’s one less thing that we have to worry about, so they can focus on going to school and I can focus on moving us ahead. It helps. It really helps. (Children First/CIS) really has my back.”

With a constant positive attitude, and belief that everything happens for a reason, Natasha plans on going to school and getting her college degree once her youngest is enrolled in Head Start. As a single parent, she has no back-up for childcare, so she found that it made more sense to stay at home and raise her children until they were enrolled in Head Start or school before pursuing her academic goals and getting a stable income. She is excited to start this new chapter in her life.

“Me going to school is going to encourage my kids that you don’t just get through school and then you’re done. It’s time to do more work.”

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Children First/CIS is a local non-profit that believes all children deserve to reach their full potential. We help achieve this by surrounding children and their families with supports that help them succeed in their schools, communities and homes. Whether that’s providing a food box, tutoring in school and after-school, getting school supplies, teaching parenting skills or helping families meet basic needs, we’re there. Along with our direct services we also advocate for policies that support families with local and state policy makers. To find out more go to www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.