According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the District has more than 2,700 homeless children younger than 6.
Delivering early childhood education and helping families transition out of homelessness or deal with other monumental challenges are some of the goals of Bright Beginnings, Inc. (BBI), a nonprofit with two locations in Ward 8.
The locations are inside Church of the Holy Communion on 3640 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SE, where the pre-K program is located, and the newly opened spot at 3418 4th Street SE that houses BBI’s infant and toddler program.
“We want to provide a safe, nurturing environment ensuring that children are kindergarten ready and beyond,” said Marla Dean, BBI’s executive director. “We then want to support families as they move from crisis to self-sufficiency.”
Between its two locations in Ward 8, BBI has 84 paid staff, 45 of whom are teachers. There are a range of certifications and licensures that staff are required to have for working with children and adult clients at the nonprofit.
As an organization located in Ward 8, BBI has actively recruited staff who live east of the Anacostia River.
“It has been important for us to hire Ward 8 residents, including a lot of our male staff,” Dean said.
There are quite a few fathers who are BBI clients, which is not often considered when thinking about homeless parents with children. Many fathers are marginalized due to illness, personal injuries, immigration status and criminal record.
A recent weeklong, in-service staff training included one day focused on trauma-informed care. That training was designed to help BBI staff know how to be more aware of trauma and to sharpen skills that recognize the need for self-care.
“We know that for children who experience homelessness, that trauma impacts the brain,” Dean said. “This is an important time for brain development. The brain is literally wiring itself and trauma can stunt growth causing cognitive delays.”
Families are referred to BBI from homeless shelters, Child Protective Services, the District’s Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, and other agencies and churches.
Though BBI itself is not a homeless shelter, if a homeless family comes to BBI, they will assist in connecting the family to proper housing resources.
When a family comes to BBI, assessments are conducted and a care team assigned. The team, which includes a home visitor, a workforce development specialist and a family advocate, monitors 13 areas to ensure clients are connected to resources and are moving toward self-sufficiency.
Another service BBI provides, when necessary, is helping a parent earn their high school diploma through the National External Diploma Program. While parents are at work or are in training to become workforce-ready, their pre-K child is at BBI in early childhood development activities at one of their locations that are open from 7 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
With a strong board of directors and a clear strategic focus, BBI has been able to attract quite a bit of donor support for its $10 million capital campaign.
One of the biggest supporter is Washington Wizards superstar John Wall. Through his John Wall Family Foundation, he contributed to the building of BBI’s new location on 4th Street in Southeast.
“It’s great they opened up a new facility,” Wall said. “To have the opportunity to help those less fortunate and to give kids the opportunity for preschool, I’m just happy to do it.”
BBI is the only program in the District that is working with homeless pre-K children. The work performed by the nonprofit undergo numerous evaluations conducted by local and national agencies.
“We are consistently rated as a highly successful, credentialed center,” Dean said. “That shows our children are learning and achieving at a high level.”
For more information, go to www.bbidc.org.