Elijah Hampton hated reading the same way a lot of other 12-year-old boys hate sitting still long enough to even get through a few chapters. He had just moved from California to Alabama with his mother and brother as they tried to start their lives over in the slower pace of the Deep South, and reading was not on his list of things to do.
His mother, Alesha Brown, had tried everything to make him fall in love with the written word. She’s a real go-getter, the kind of energetic, full-of-life person who makes you envy her drive and determination and feel exhausted by her schedule all at the same time. Alesha and her two sons live in public housing, but they’ve found an ally in Village of Promise, a nonprofit that is working to end the cycle of poverty.
It was through Village of Promise that Elijah started to enjoy reading. He was attending CDF Freedom School, a Village of Promise summer program, when the teachers had an idea: Since Elijah loves rap music, they would encourage him to read a book and present a rap-style book report.
“I thought that was so cool that they allowed them to do that,” Alesha said. “Whatever it was, he was able to recap the story, and this is something that I can never get him to do, even if I prompt him and ask him questions … he’s not interested. … But they gave him another way to express the story that he read.”
Since then, Elijah has started reading more and more, and Alesha has learned one rap-worthy technique to reach her son when he’s not engaging in his lessons.
Reaching children is just one of the things Village of Promise excels at while they’re working to give low-income families all the resources they need to end their cycle of poverty.
It was only by accident that Alesha moved to Alabama. Her younger son’s father lived in Florida. When the boy was 3, she agreed to let his father have an extended visit. However, the thought of returning to the other side of the country while her son was in Florida was, understandably, a little too much for the single mother to handle. She knew someone in Huntsville and called to see if she could stay in Alabama instead of going back to California while her son was in Florida.
Within two days, she’d fallen in love with the slower pace and Alabamians’ friendly nature. She told her mother to pack up her apartment in Sacramento and bring the older boy to her in Alabama. They’d found a new home.
“It was already designed for me to be here,” Alesha said. “I just had no idea.
“When I came here, I felt at peace,” she continued. “I felt comfortable. I felt like this is where I needed to be at that point of life.”
She met some of the people at Huntsville Housing Authority when she applied to get into public housing. They took Alesha under their wing — no doubt seeing her desire to give her sons the best life — and pointed her to Village of Promise’s summer program.
Here’s the thing about Alesha: She will not turn down an opportunity to better herself or her sons. She’s the kind of person any altruist would want to help because you know her personality will magnify any lesson for the greater good.
She signed her boys up and dove into the other programs Village of Promise offers.
“I thought it was just something for the summer, but it wasn’t,” Alesha said. “So I became part of Village of Promise. Once you are in Village of Promise, you are in Village of Promise forever.”
Village of Promise calls themselves a family advancement center. Think: community center meets continuing education curriculum for the whole family. They have programs and classes designed to help families transition out of poverty.
Alesha was going to the weekly Family Connections Program meetings when she found out about Promise Preparatory, a preschool for Village of Promise families. Again, determined to give her children the best education possible, Alesha decided to do whatever it took to get her young son in to Promise Preparatory.
Village of Promise requires parents to take a course called Infant University before enrolling their children in preschool. That was great and all, but Alesha had already survived the infant-parenting phase twice. Not only that, she had majored in early childhood education in college. What could they teach her she didn’t already know?
“Every workshop that we had, I left with something,” Alesha said. “I learned something every time. Not one time that I went did I say, ‘That was a waste of my time.’ ”
At the end of the Infant University course, Alesha was asked to give a speech about her experience. She did so well they asked her to speak at another event — and another. At one point, she brought up her background in early childhood education — something that caught the attention of Village of Promise leadership. They offered Alesha an opportunity to interview for an open position at Promise Preparatory, and eventually they offered her a job.
Job interviews have always been a sore spot for Alesha. She would go and talk, but then she’d spiral into depression and self-doubt when she didn’t get the position. Thanks to the classes she’d taken at Village of Promise, Alesha was confident enough to interview for and earn the position as a teacher at Promise Preparatory.
“They are bridging a gap that no one else has been able to bridge as far as … taking the parents that are low-income, and they are giving us a chance and giving us the confidence that we can … accomplish things, and we can qualify for jobs,” Alesha said.
Lack of confidence is a big problem in low-income communities, Alesha said. Parents who are doing their best for their children, but still feel they aren’t giving their children everything, often lack self-esteem. Village of Promise gives them back their sense of self-worth through courses and workshops that keep their children on the same pace as others.
For example, a parent who couldn’t afford swimming lessons for their children can send them to the free lessons offered to Village of Promise children through their partnership with the YMCA and know they are learning the same valuable life skills other kids are learning. For the parents, there are classes and workshops on everything from healthy cooking to budgeting.
“Even though we are low-income, we are not going to miss out on a lot,” Alesha said. “We’re going to miss out on some things, obviously, but they are making us feel kind of normal.”
For Alesha, all of these programs are helping her get to her ultimate goal of home ownership.
“I’m definitely taking full advantage of all the resources that Huntsville as a whole has to offer, that Village of Promise has to offer, that the Housing Authority has to offer,” Alesha said. “I’m not just here cruising and riding. … No, I’m taking advantage because it’s a stepping stone. Every resource is a stepping stone for us to move further in life, to climb out of poverty.”
Village of Promise is working strategically to guide and support many families like Elijah and Alesha’s — families that want to move forward in their lives — and they rely on volunteers and donations to help with expenses.
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