Parent Ambassadors Testimonials
Sandy Junker, Director, Lower Columbia College Head Start/ECEAP- We have been so happy with the Parent Ambassador program. It has been life changing for our parents that have been selected to be a Parent Ambassador in Washington State. I have seen our parents grow in their leadership abilities, their confidence in speaking to others whether it is parents, legislators or City Council. Through this program our parents have decided on lifelong dreams for themselves, and have worked to follow those life dreams. I am in “awe” as a Director to see what this program does for parents, which consequently means not only do the parents benefit, but their children and the community. It is an investment worth continuing in Washington State.
Laura Wells, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids- When parents enroll their children in ECEAP or Head Start they learn to be advocates for their own children. When they participate in the Parent Ambassador program, they learn to be advocates for all children. The Parent Ambassadors have done an excellent job of putting a real face on the issues impacting families in our state.
Bette Hyde, Director of the Department of Early Learning– I can think of few things more important than engaging parents in the important work of early learning. Parent Ambassadors speak with credibility and knowledge as their child’s first teachers. They have been truly wonderful in educating the public, policy makers, and key stakeholders in advancing this important initiative.
Steve Leahy, Director, Ready Nation, WA State Chapter- I found the Parent Ambassadors to be an incredible asset in Olympia. They have a unique credibility with legislators. They speak from their own experience about the challenges they face and overcame. They are shining examples of what can be achieved when assistance and positive coaching are provided.
Ryan Pricco, Policy Director, Child Care Aware of WA– Parent Ambassadors are not only incredible advocates for families, providers, and the children they care for, but they are also incredible examples of what parents are capable of with just a little support.
Drayton Jackson, 2014 Parent Ambassador- Being a parent ambassador this year has been a life altering experience. It is a wonderful feeling knowing you are needed for a cause. I am black man from the projects of Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in poverty. I grew up not having the education that children in the other areas had. When I was given the title of Parent Ambassador it gave me a mission to fight for my children as well as all children so their lives can turn out different from mine.
The benefits I have received from being a Parent Ambassador are great. My whole mindset and attitude is focused on making sure the injustice in education for our children are dealt with one way or the other on all levels. Before being a Parent Ambassador, I would have never studied how bills are made or how the political process works. I would have never met with a senator or congressman and told them my story; I would have never thought anybody cared about me. Being a parent ambassador has given me the backbone to stand strong; not only was I taught by WSA how to deliver and approach every situation when fighting for a bill to be passed for Head Start and ECEAP, but also knowing that I have a voice to make a difference in the process and a support system of other parent ambassadors to stand with.
Juliana Johnson, 2014 Parent Ambassador- Parent Ambassadors has been an amazing experience for me. The training I have received has given me the opportunity to advocate for my children and my community. I have gone from a timid public speaker to one who has learned that my voice is strong in my community. I will be forever grateful to this program.
Cherise Billington-Dalton, 2014 Parent Ambassador- I have gained so much confidence from this program. I have found my voice and exercise it when something needs addressed in many different circumstances. I also have a clear vision of where I want my future to go because of the hope I have had restored through this program. I implore you to keep funding Parent Ambassadors and also increase it if possible so you can help impact many more lives.
Grace Ssebugwawo, 2014 Parent Ambassador- Being an immigrant it not easy to work within a new system because you need the right information and more support to navigate the system and be able to utilize the available resources. I have personally gotten exposure to the government system and structure that are related to early learning, federal and state regulations for children’s early learning policies. I have gotten a chance to interact with legislators, educators and staff working with our children. The training models I have received have turned my life around. I have gained more confidence and developed a strong support group.
There is a lot of self discovery, trust building, encouragement, open opportunities, and linkages. The WSA Staff, coordinators, and fellow Parent Ambassador positively contribute towards each parent’s desired goals. As an end result our children have benefited more because of our advocacy, better parent- children interaction, expansion of opportunity, clear understanding of our roles and obligations with the early learning process.
Patty Allen, Head Start/ECEAP/EHS Director, Spokane WA – Two of our ECEAP parents, Stephenie Browne and Wayne Ueda, have been participants in the Parent Ambassador program this past year. While both were active in ECEAP Policy Council prior to involvement in Parent Ambassadors, the level of growth in leadership and advocacy skills we have seen is exceptional. Stephenie and Wayne have learned to take their natural passion and motivation and channel it into effective advocacy at the local and state levels. Involvement with Parent Ambassadors has provided them both with the skills to advocate for their own children as well as those across the state. They have acquired skills in leadership which have allowed them to guide ECEAP Policy Council through some very difficult and potentially controversial decisions. The experience with Parent Ambassadors is definitely a major factor in these two parents becoming the effective and respected advocates they are today.
Wayne, a parent at the Spokane YWCA downtown site, has taken the initiative to “cross-train” with our Head Start Policy Council by attending meetings and encouraging others to do the same. He is very active in grassroots community advocacy by supporting the Children’s Investment Fund and promoting the Our Kids: Our Business campaign. Wayne has enhanced his awareness of community issues by attending education opportunities such as Gang Awareness Training.
Stephenie, an East Valley School District ECEAP parent, has become involved in community activism along with her ECEAP commitments. She recently worked with her local city council to ensure children a safe walking route to community events during prolonged road construction.
The Parent Ambassador Program has allowed these two dynamic individuals to grow into even better resources and advocates in our community. Spokane County ECEAP has benefitted greatly from their service and efforts.
Leslie Dozono, Early Learning Policy director, Children’s Alliance – The Parent Ambassador program is a wonderful way for parents to gain skills, confidence, and knowledge to engage in policy advocacy. In the past two years, there has been a marked increase in the number of parents who advocate in Olympia, encourage others to advocate, and effectively share their stories with policymakers. Their voice is essential to ensuring that policies work for families they are designed to impact.
From a well known early learning and K-12 advocate – I wanted to write to thank you for your fabulous testimony today. Your stories riveted the legislators and gave them a great deal of perspective on how WaKids [state kindergarten readiness pilot program] can work on the ground. Because of how effective your testimony was, I have been getting a lot of great feedback from the representatives from the committee, Department of Early Learning, and OSPI [Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] all day. I also had several requests for both of you to come back, if possible, when and if the bill gets heard in the Senate. I hope you think about coming come back because I believe your personal stories really put a spotlight on WaKIDS – and will make this “the little bill that will”.
Rachelle Ensor, 2010 Parent Ambassador, Bremerton WA – Being a PA has shown me that just because I have a low income or because I am a single parent, it does not mean that I have a small voice amongst a large crowd where I often feel alone.
I am no longer afraid to ask questions of the “important people” who seem to be the only ones who make decisions that affect me.
It is not just “money that talks”; persevering and building confidence through life’s struggles is what people see as valuable and important.
I can’t describe the feeling of being able to share my experiences and opinions on issues that were being influenced and opposed by people who have no idea what it’s like to go through the tough times and experiences that I have had and have to go through still.
PA’s see the big picture in supporting family and the PA program teaches not only how to stand up for families, but it showed me how in the midst of my worst circumstances, there is some value from it that can be brought to the attention of others who might never know what it’s like to fall that far down.
I have become more aware of my options when I really thought that I didn’t have any!
I have been able to make better choices for my children when it comes to school, friends, learning and child care.
I have higher expectations for a better life for my children and I have been able to be a resource to friends and family who might be going through some of the same things.
It is hard raising a family in an environment where others may not support you or understand why you made decisions in the past, but the PA program is here to show you where and how to start building on a solid foundation of personal growth and empowerment to better the lives of all families.
Being a PA has taught me that I am valuable and that I can have an important influence on my community.
Robb Atherton, 2010 Parent Ambassador, Longview WA -I have had to overcome many obstacles in my life, all of which I created due to bad decisions. I am a recovering addict with twenty-eight years of active addiction. I am an ex-convict with approximately twenty years of incarceration. From the age of thirteen to thirty-seven my life was a revolving door, in and out of Juvenile facilities,half-way Houses, and state prison. My son Jason and I became homeless and for a short time lived in The Community House, a homeless shelter in Longview Washington. Today Jason is now five years old, and has successfully completed two years of Head Start, and is now enrolled in Kindergarten.
While Jason was enrolled in Head Start, I took advantage of the programs offered to us and got involved as much as I could as a parent. I started a local Dad’s Group at a local non-profit called “Parent’s Place” that is still active and meeting regularly today.
As a Parent Ambassador I was taught about the political landscape and how to properly voice my opinion and be an Advocate for issues important to me and my community. I have been to my state Capital in Olympia, Washington and met with my representatives. I was selected by my peers as one of five to travel to Washingon, D.C to represent the Parent Ambassador Program. While there, I met with Senator Patty Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, Congressman Brian Baird, as well as Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, Director of the Office of Head Start. I was able to voice my concerns about the future of the Head Start Program.
I was then awarded the “Beating the Odds” award for Region 10, (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho), and went on to place in the top 5 in the nation.
Today, I am in my second year of college, majoring in Computer Science at Lower Columbia College. I’ve recently become a homeowner, purchasing a home for my son and myself. My goal is to help other fathers who have made bad choices, and have suffered drug addiction and been through the prison system. I want to help them get their lives back on track and become role models for their children, and productive members of society.
James McBride, 2010 Parent Ambassador, Longview, WA – I am a single father of 2 incredible young boys, a college student 5 weeks from graduation, and a U.S. Army Veteran who served during Desert Storm. 2 years ago my boys and I were homeless, living with my parents and receiving state assistance my oldest son qualified and was accepted into the Lower Columbia College Head Start program.
The parent ambassadors program awakened a passion in me, advocacy. Not only did I learn how to advocate for myself and my children; I learned how to advocate for ALL children and families. Because of the parent ambassadors program I was able to travel to Washington DC and speak to people I would never have had the courage or opportunity to speak to. I have been asked if I would like to travel to other states and speak to parents about parent involvement and advocacy as well. With the use of modern technology my Head Start success story has been viewed 280 times all thanks to the parent ambassadors program. Graduating college is an accomplishment in and of itself as I will be the first in my family to do so. Above and beyond being a college graduate I am a successful and informed parent. I make trips to our state capitol whenever our legislators are in session to tell them my families’ story, and to give them encouragement when making these difficult decisions. Lastly because of the parent ambassadors program I have been honored as the Region X (10) 2009-10 Father of the Year, and am being considered for a finalist spot for the National Head Start Association Father of the Year scholarship.
DesiRae Zabel, 2011 Parent Ambassador, Clarkston, WA – This program has opened my eyes to the fact that Early education is Important for our children, and that it only takes one voice to make a difference. I have been educated on my sons’ educations, and what it takes for this program to run, and how effective and important these programs are for our children and their families. We are given so many tools to better our lives and to show our children how to better their lives.
The Parent Ambassador program offers so many amazing opportunities to be educated in so many ways. I have been updated on important issues, I’ve been taught how to use my voice, and to get others involved. I also loved the training on how to positively sell your passion to get others to support your goals. I’ve learned how important it is to stand up for what’s important for our children and our lives. We have a huge state and federal debt, but with all our hard work, loud voices and dedication we have had not cut. This shows me that these Early Ed programs are showing amazing results, and that we all are being heard, and that we have numbers and results to back what we support. Thank you for teaching me how to direct my passion to be an ambassador for my child, family, program, and community. I would recommend this Parent Ambassador Program to anyone who wants to get involved, fight hard, be ready to be trained, and for someone who loves what they do, and will use their voice to do it.
Elizabeth Grillett, 2010 Parent Ambassador, Tacoma WA – If you had asked me when I applied to be a parent ambassador if I could testify in Olympia or walk up to a complete stranger and educate him or her on the importance of early learning, I would have had to say never in a million years. I can proudly say that this year I have gotten over my fear of testifying, and I am a shining testament for early learning wherever I go.
April Ritter Terry, 2010 Parent Ambassador, Elma, WA – The program has benefited me by giving me the ability to make a difference in not just my child’s life, but others in our community. I have become more informed and have learned how to spread that knowledge. I have gained self confidence, and strength as a mother and a friend. Now, when people ask me a question, I am passionate about giving them an answer and if I don’t know the answer I find it. I have gained knowledgeable resources that I never dreamed I would have access to. I have been giving the opportunity to be more than just a statistic. Meeting senators and representatives to tell my story, and actually have them listen and exchange emails with me and even asking more questions about my particular situation. A year ago, I had no idea any of this was possible. Being a voice for so many others has been inspiring, and I am looking forward to many more opportunities!
Misty Shapansky, 2011 Parent Ambassador, Elma WA – I’ve testified on behalf of child care and I’ve also met with my local representatives for the House and Senate on behalf of ECEAP. I’ve spoken with parents about the K-12 cuts and the effects of ECEAP. I have written the Senate on behalf of Head Start and have distributed information about ECEAP/Head Start as well as the WCCC.
I’ve found people who share the same goals as I do and feel as though I am more active in my community. I have been empowered by the knowledge I’ve gained about how to advocate for what I believe in and how to create an active conversation about topics I believe are important.
John McClure, 2011 Parent Ambassador, Spokane WA – Since I became a Parent Ambassador I have traveled to the different ECEAP sites instructing parents on the importance of talking to the elected leaders. I have arranged a trip to “Have a Heart For Kids Day” with parents from Spokane with the help of Children’s Alliance paying for a bus. I have started to form a committee with past and present Parent Ambassadors and the local community to plan the first Spokane “Have a Heart Day” with the help of Children’s Alliance. I was interviewed by KHQ Channel 6 News about the proposed cuts to ECEAP. I have also personally sent out around fifty emails to our legislature about ECEAP funding, WCCC and the DEL ECEAP outcome report 2009 – 2010. I have also made myself available to any group or persons wanting to know more about speaking up and being heard.
On a personal note, I have had a chance to improve my communication skills especially being more focused in getting my points across. It has enabled me to be a more effective team player, and understanding the different personality traits that people offer.
Stephanie Bates, 2011 Parent Ambassador, Vancouver WA – For me the Ambassador program is about effectually learning how to advocate and to teach the families in my area how to advocate for our Children and Families. We (Surina Warren Nash and myself) have gone out to Head start and ECEAP sites to talk to families about what is important to know and how we can act on issues related to the program, asked families to write their stories about why and how the program has been a benefit to their family, spoken to Parent Policy Council and Board members about the program and asked for feedback regarding ideas and areas they think we can give a helping hand too. I have written to my Representatives, Congress persons, and members of the senate. I have gotten a better idea of where they stand and what issues they thought are important. I feel that it has been an exciting undertaking and I have learned so much just from our Advocacy Day. I feel that I can be a voice that can be heard!