by Marlee Sherrod
I did not know what to expect when I first visited our Cortland Community Impact Center to film some client testimonials for the #5andUnderFund campaign. Right away I could tell that Cortland was more than just a school: It’s a family. The community volunteers are the supportive aunts and uncles, helping kids put paper noses on the craft faces they are making. Classmates act more like siblings, brothers and sisters, learning, exploring, and developing together and encouraging each other.
And, of course, there are the teachers: surrogate parents who guide and mentor their little ones. They do not just teach their kids how to count, but demonstrate how to talk to and respect each other, to communicate their emotions and peacefully resolve conflicts. And then at the head of the site is Manager Penny Reed. Everyone admires her, and parents respond to her. As one staff member told me, “She just has a way of meeting and reaching the parents where they are.”
Penny also coordinates moments that bring together all the Cortland classrooms. One of those moments was bringing in the winner of Cortland’s presidential election, Dora the Explorer! The students voted between the TV star and her cousin Diego. I witnessed the kids cheer as Dora [parent-volunteer Cheyenne Kerr in disguise] made a surprise visit to her Cortland constituents to thank them for their support. That is what staff members like Penny and parent-volunteers like Cheyenne do to make voting an exciting and fun experience for their kids!
Another parent that I talked with was Amanda Ross — a mother of triplets at Cortland. Before Wayne Metro, she paid $450 every two weeks for her triplets pre-school at another facility. “It wasn’t even day care because that was even more expensive,” she said. Amanda worked tirelessly for 29 hours every week as a Store Manager at a local Panera, sometimes working from 5 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., dropping her kids off at school in between.
That $450 did not include the $150 down payment per child, sheets and blankets for nap time, Ziploc bags to hold those sheets and blankets, or uniforms. Amanda wants the best for her kids and strives for a solid foundation for them for a life of learning and growth, but that is not always possible for some parents. Families sometimes have to choose between a quality early childhood education and a comfortable home for their family — a choice no parent should have to make.
If like me and you’re perplexed about how Amanda manages; she has a simple and empowering answer:
“You just do it. I didn’t even think about it because there was no other option. I had to do it.”
That is why I am so humbled that Project High Five’s parents and children sat down and shared their stories with me for the #5andUnderFund: These vulnerable families are often a missed paycheck, sick day, or unexpected incident away from having nowhere to turn. The money raised, both on #GivingTuesday and beyond, will go directly to supporting them, and providing the kind of resources they might not otherwise have access to. Even though my time at Cortland was brief with, I got to spend some time with some incredible parents and some inspiring kids: the #5andUnderFund beneficiaries.
Marlee Sherrod is an AmeriCorps Vista Member currently in service in Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency’s Development Department.