Tyree Dickey, a mother of four, grew up in a family that lived on welfare checks and never owned a book. But thanks to a New Haven non-profit founded by two Yale graduates, Dickey has left the housing project and moved her family into their own house.
“I don’t know how I would have made it out of my poverty situation,” said Dickey, who now works at the non-profit, All Our Kin on Grand Avenue. “They took a chance on me at a time when nobody else would. Because of them, I’m in a place where I can support and mentor others that don’t have the resources, that came from the same places I did. I can show them the example that they can pursue their dreams, they can be successful and don’t have to limit themselves.”
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Dickey is one of more than 250 New Haven residents who received training and education from All Our Kin, which started out in a four-bedroom West Rock apartment and now provides training and resources to low-income mothers who hope to run at-home child care facilities. Founded by Jessica Sager LAW ’99 and Janna Wagner ’95 in 1999, the program raises the mothers’ incomes, on average, from $3,750 before the project to $20,000 12 months after completing the project, according to a 2009 All Our Kin survey.
The organization’s work has attracted the attention of national and local non-profits and politicians, particularly as All Our Kin plans to expand its training agencies to 20 more towns and cities in Connecticut. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley visited a family child-care provider with Sager last Thursday after he heard Sager speak about the importance of early childhood education.
CARE AT HOME
Sager and Wagner founded All Our Kin as a response to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, a reform program that, among other things, gives welfare benefits to citizens who seek training and employment. The overhaul, Sager said, put single parents in a bind: they could either enter the job market and place their children in low-quality child care or they could stay with their children at home and risk losing welfare benefits.
As a first-year law student, Sager created the idea for All Our Kin after working on a project with Yale Law School visiting senior research scholar Anne Alstott LAW ’87 on the effects of welfare reform on children. After developing a model for the organization during her last two years of law school, Sager secured funding from a Law School fellowship, law students and local organizations and received help in finding an office space from the New Haven Housing Authority.
Sager met Wagner through a mutual friend from Yale, Lucy Wood ’95, and approached her about co-founding All Our Kin because they shared mutual interests in early childhood education.
Wagner, who was born and raised in New Haven, attended public school in the city. Wagner studied psychology at Yale as an undergraduate, and earned a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. After teaching in the South Bronx under the Teach for America program, she came back to New Haven.
Some of the children that Wagner taught had “never owned a book, never been to a bookstore, never been to many cultural events that we take for granted,” she said. “And down the street, just a mile, kids were getting everything they needed in Manhattan. It reminded me that in New Haven and New York this inequity existed.”
Dickey was in the first group of mothers to receive training for early childhood education from the program.
“I was desperate to combat the cycle [of welfare], and I didn’t want my children to be the next generation on public assistance,” she said. “I had tried many times to find employment, and it never lasted very long because I had four children at home.”
After classes on child development, Dickey and the other single mothers were given hands-on experience with child care. Upon completing the course, Dickey received an offer from Sager and Wagner to join the All Our Kin staff as a teacher of the child care program.
Sager and Wagner soon found that many of All Our Kin’s graduates were opening their own state-licensed family child care centers. Sager said the centers address the fact that there is only one licensed child care slot for every eight infants and toddlers in need of care.
Between 2000 and 2007, the state lost over 32 percent of its at-home child care programs, while the number in New Haven increased by almost 27 percent, according to an All Our Kin promotional pamphlet.
Now, state officials are interested in the organization’s success. On Thursday, Foley visited family child-care provider Ileana Gonzalez’s home at 80 Exchange St., where he played with the toddlers for whom Gonzalez cared. When Foley entered the home, the children were painting in the backyard.
“The program is fantastic because we have many challenges, in not just New Haven but all of our inner cities, with jobs,” Foley said, his hands stained with sparkly paint.
All Our Kin often works with Yale students through fellowships or research grants.
Lauren Graber MED ’12 is working this year at All Our Kin through a paid research grant from the Yale School of Medicine that allows her to take a year off classes to pursue community advocacy work. She said she wanted to learn how the organization worked with local community health providers.
And Dorcas Akinwande ’13, a Dwight Hall early childhood education fellow who has taught children in Sunday school, began volunteering at All Our Kin last Friday. She will be assisting Wagner and Sager with plans to expand All Our Kin to the state level and working with the children who come into the All Our Kin offices for monthly parent meetings.
“I’ve heard of all the wonderful things [All Our Kin workers have] been doing through their programs,” she said. “People who come into contact with All Our Kin, their lives have been changed in terms of knowing how to care for children.”
The program originally started with six mothers and six children.