Mountain States Early Head Start celebrated 20 years of ensuring healthy pregnancies and early childhood development in North Idaho with a celebration at its 15th Street center in Coeur d’Alene. Families and community partners mingled and had lunch together, while kids enjoyed an open play session, outdoor activities, arts and crafts, a photo booth and free books to take home.
“It’s just kind of a fun event to connect again with each other and say hi to old friends and meet new ones,” said Kimberley Seitz, Coeur d’Alene MSEHS director.
MSEHS serves pregnant women, infants and children up to the age of 3. They provide home visits, playgroups, and specialized training for parents and caregivers, along with prenatal and postpartum support.
Home visits entail a 90-minute visit once a week with a trained facilitator where individualized services are provided.
“They work directly with the family to identify areas that the family is interested in, either for their own goals or their child’s goals. So it could be like housing or employment or if they want to go back to school, or for a child it could be that the parents just want to ensure that they are developing appropriately. So we work with them and individualize everything we do. That includes the resources we’ve provided or referrals. Then they can work together to kind of break down their goals and meet them,” Seitz explained.
Playgroups offer a chance for early socialization and an opportunity for parents to make new friends too.
Carie Duncan attended the celebration with her five grandchildren. Eighteen-month-old Ryder is a new enrollee with the program. He has started with the home visits and the hope is to start going to playgroups when there is space available in the fall.
“They offer support for families that are low income, and they give the support where it is needed. It’s a pretty awesome program, and it helps the babies to get out of their shells and experience playing with other kids,” Duncan said. “But everybody here is so friendly and so welcoming and that’s the best part.”
Much emphasis is put on school readiness.
“At the heart we are a school readiness program,” explained Seitz, “which means we know that children will succeed in school if they have healthy attachments as infants and toddlers, so we spend a lot of time trying to support the parent or caregiver relationship and ensure that they understand the importance and that they have the skills to develop that.”
She explained that 20 years ago they didn’t really understand school readiness in infants and toddlers. Everybody thought school readiness meant using flash cards or using rote memorization.
“But it doesn’t really work like that,” she said.
Upon entering the program, children are screened in milestone areas such as vision and hearing, nutritional concerns, behavioral concerns and development concerns.
“So we kind of look at the whole picture of the child as they age and we want to support their development,” Seitz said.
Community engagement is also something that has significantly changed over the years according to Seitz.
“We have recognized as a program that it takes a village to really support the community and families, so we all come together and we share those resources. It’s much more effective then if we try to do it individually,” she said. “We really recognize that our community partners are a strength and the community part has always been a piece of the program, but never to the extent that it is today.”
Brianna Fitzpatrick and Nicholas Spellman were there with their 10-month-old twins, Killian and Dante, who are currently enrolled in Early Head Start, and 5-year-old Britannica, who thanks to MSEHS, is now ready to enter kindergarten.
Spellman described the kindness and comfort they have experienced along with all the help.
“The fact that they intentionally try to make it to where you feel welcome to the responses and the advice given, rather then you feeling attacked or that you are doing something wrong. They don’t do that at all here. They make me feel 100 percent comfortable and I am an anxious person,” he said.
Brianna was single and pregnant with Britannica when they joined the family they found in MSEHS.
“She aged out at age 3 and I did not want to leave, so when I got pregnant again with the twins, I was like, ‘Yes! We re going back, because I love this place!’ I mean I was single with her and it was horrible, and they helped me out with everything, so now this is like a second home to me,” Fitzpatrick said.