Fund for the Needy
Childhaven nurtures children and helps parents trying to surmount rough times
Seattle Times staff reporter
Alexzandria Jefferson doesn't remember the names of her teachers. But she built stuff in the sandbox. She painted. And when she graduated from Childhaven, at age 5, she wore a purplish cone-shaped hat adorned with stars and a scarf around her neck, just like a princess.
Although the details of her days at Childhaven come in patchy memories, Jefferson does remember the way the child-care program made her feel. She was safe. She could say whatever came to mind. And she was comfortable just being her.
Jefferson — now 21 — sees the same environment nurturing her 2-year-old daughter, Eden.
"She wasn't communicating like other kids," said Jefferson of her daughter before entering Childhaven. "Now she talks. She says everything she can. ... Her favorite word is 'movie' or 'I don't like that.'... "
The agency was established in 1909 as the Seattle Day Nursery and began focusing on abused and neglected children with its Therapeutic Childcare Program in 1977. It became Childhaven in 1985, continuing work with children younger than 5, those affected by alcohol and drugs and those in crisis. It's one of the agencies benefiting from The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy.
"There's a need for earlier intervention and support," said agency associate director Vicki Nino Osby. "It's an opportunity to serve the whole family in a way that supports healthy development in children as young as one month."
Jefferson was 4 when she first toddled into Childhaven's kid-decorated halls. Her mother worked as a kidney-dialysis technician and cleaned houses at night. And she was trying to raise five children, including 2-year-old twins.
She sent her three youngest to Childhaven, a place Jefferson didn't want to leave when the time came for kindergarten.
After Childhaven, Jefferson bounced from the homes of her mother, friends, shelters and seven foster homes. The expressive child from Childhaven became a silent and angry teenager who felt alone.
"It was a lot of miscommunication with my mother and not being understood. She went through a lot of stuff raising all five of us. I wanted a lot of attention and to be loved by her," said Jefferson. "I was requiring something that she couldn't give me."
She got into fights. She stole. She started drinking and smoking pot. She spent a month in juvenile hall. Pregnant at 17, she dropped out of school.
With the pressures of homelessness and a young daughter, Jefferson ended up in a hospital last year for depression. During a week-and-a-half stay, she was diagnosed with bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Jefferson enrolled in a drug and alcohol abuse program. She found an apartment. And so she could focus on treatment and counseling at Central Youth and Family Services, she signed Eden up for Childhaven.
While the majority of the children in Childhaven programs each day are referred by Child Protective or Child Welfare services because they were abused or neglected, a small percentage are enrolled by their parents — like Jefferson — who are undergoing treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
"This has been a wonderful helper," said Jefferson. "It gives me the break that I need, and at the same time I know she's being well taken care of."
Eden — who turns 3 next month — runs to the van driven by one of her three teachers when it comes to pick her up each morning. She eats breakfast, lunch and a snack and sings songs about spiders and hot dogs. The ringlet-topped girl scribbles out crayon drawings of houses. And she makes stew with plastic asparagus and zucchini.
About 40 percent of the 267 children in daily Childhaven programs live in foster care. A quarter were affected by alcohol or drugs before they were born. The majority have developmental obstacles ranging from speech delays to severe handicaps. And many have been abused or ignored.
The hope is to help these children succeed by giving them a loving and nurturing environment. The goal is to teach parents how to parent. And for people like Jefferson, the idea is to help her so she can help her daughter.
Jefferson has plans now. She wants to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. She wants to travel to Africa and help children there. She's engaged to be married.
And she has people to call in case she needs help.
"Everything's coming together," she said. "Life is OK right now."
Gina Kim: 206-464-2761 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company