A STRONG START

SIERRA

“I don’t think I’ve said this to anyone, but if I could not find childcare for Zoe, I was not going back to Southern. That would have been it for me.”

Zoe’s mother Sierra was ready to give up on professional dreams to take care of the immediate needs of her girls. Thanks to United Way’s Early Head Start program and caring supporters like you, she didn’t have to choose. She could finish school and her children could be in a safe learning environment. This is what made all the difference.

Now 22-year-old Sierra is a full-time college student, working a part-time job. Her schedule is packed. While her shift as a hospitality worker ends, her role as a mother never stops.

And homework? Well, her girls come first. Sierra finds time after putting her little ones to bed—sometimes even staying up until 3 in the morning to finish before her back-to-back classes. Her hard work shows—she’s made the Dean’s List.

Her goal is to become an English teacher, and she’s set to graduate next May. She’s ambitious, determined, and always on-the-go, but her potential almost went unrealized.

When Sierra was pregnant with her oldest daughter Khloe, Sierra’s mother was diagnosed with epilepsy. Because of her mother’s ailing health, living at home with her baby and mother wasn’t an option. Her only other choice was to move in with her father and stepmother.

Having lived with her mom her whole life, this required some adjustment, especially with a newborn.

Soon thereafter, Sierra learned about United Way’s Early Head Start program. She enrolled Khloe and was able to continue earning her high school diploma.

Time went on. Khloe, now 5, went to preschool, and Sierra began taking classes at Southern Connecticut State University. During her sophomore year at SCSU, Sierra became pregnant with her second daughter, Zoe.

Sierra admits that she was going to drop out of college to care for her girls. But she reconnected with United Way’s Early Head Start, and Zoe was also enrolled and began attending at 6 weeks old.

Sierra knows how the Early Head Start program positively impacts the community and the local children and families who utilize it.

At 2 and a half years old, Zoe can already count to ten, identify colors, and has excellent verbal communication and social skills. She’s well on her way to kindergarten readiness.

Early Head Start takes care of the whole family, making sure they’re connected to community services and feeling emotionally supported. The program also encourages involvement from parents like Sierra—whether it is volunteering in the classroom, or serving on the Early Head Start Policy Council.

“The most surprising thing I’ve learned is how much parents have a voice. A lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes has to be approved of through parents,” said Sierra.

Last year we served 144 infants, toddlers, and their families from New Haven, West Haven, and Hamden. Sierra is grateful, and wants to someday pay it forward and help other young mothers.

“The reason why I was able to make it to where I am is because I had support. So I need to pass down the knowledge to others.”