When Jailah became pregnant with her daughter Rheigan – unemployed, alone, and 3,000 miles away from her family – she knew she needed help. Originally from Pennsylvania, Jailah moved to California seeking an environment with a more progressive attitude towards the LGBT community, of which she identified. But with a baby on the way, she was at a loss to handle a new life and her new role as a mother without the village necessary to raise a child.
Jailah reached out to Allies for Every Child (Allies) after seeing a flyer for the home-based Early Head Start (EHS) program. The program offered just the kind of support that she was seeking — intensive weekly visits from a home educator to help nurture child develop and quarterback life’s persistent challenges, and twice-monthly socializations to ward off the deleterious effects of social isolation and cultivate community among Allies’ families.
Jailah and Rheigan began working with Allies’ Lead Home Educator Virginia when Rheigan was just four-months-old. As a new mom without a sturdy network of support, Jailah admits that she, “didn’t even know where to start.”
Virginia and Jailah worked together to fortify Jailah’s strengths and build the skills and confidence required to face her challenges. Together, they navigated the complexities of health insurance and affordable housing. They built Jailah’s resume and sharpened her interviewing skills to land a job with regular hours and steady pay at the Department of Motor Vehicles. They problem-solved together when a utility bill was late or when Rheigan needed a new car seat. For Jailah, Virginia’s supports were a warm embrace, with no challenge insurmountable and no frustration too trivial for a venting session. As Jailah described Virginia: “she was relentlessly positive.”
What struck Virginia most about Jailah and Rheigan during their nearly three years together was their appetite for learning, diving headfirst into every activity that Virginia suggested. To develop Rheigan’s fine motor skills, they painted, mixed up “clean mud” to make mud pies, built block homes, and shook maracas. To hone STEM capabilities, they measured ingredients for homemade playdough and created ramps to experiment with gravity. They read stories, sang songs, and learned to use words to communicate emotion. There was nothing too messy, too noisy, or too onerous for Jailah when it came to Rheigan’s development.
“We were her guinea pigs,” Jailah said. “I didn’t care if it was going to be extra work or more clean up, I wanted Rheigan to have every experience available to her.”
Virginia recalled an instance of finger-painting gone rogue, when Rheigan decided that everything, including the refrigerator, could be a canvas. Virginia caught the petite Picasso in the act and cringed at the thought of telling Jailah that her previously white refrigerator was covered in black paint, but was relieved when Jailah laughed and chalked it up to the process of parenting a toddler.
“It does get overwhelming sometimes and I don’t want to do just the bare minimum,” Jailah said. “I want Rheigan to value education and want to always do more. If I can instill that in her, it will all be worth it.”
Knowing that a supported, socially-connected mother is a stronger mother, Virginia made sure that not only was Rheigan hitting her developmental milestones, but that Jailah was growing as a person as well. In addition to “just getting my life together” as Jailah puts it, she also quickly developed into a leader in her ALLIES peer group. By her second year in the program, Jailah was elected Parent Counsel Representative, a move she felt empowered by as a minority single-mother who couldn’t speak Spanish.
Jailah is now a fierce advocate for her daughter, ensuring that Rheigan takes advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow.
Rheigan is a flourishing five-year-old who continually impresses her kindergarten teachers. She sings songs in Spanish and is quick to show you her favorite filters for a Snapchat selfie.
Though Rheigan aged out of Allies’ home-based EHS program, Jailah and Rheigan still consider Virginia an irreplaceable member of the family with permanent invitations to birthday parties, holiday gatherings, or just a pop-in whenever she’s in the neighborhood.
“Allies was such a huge part of our lives.” Jailah said. “Virginia was there for the good, the bad, and the everything. She will always be a part of our family.”