“When I became a mom, I was on my own trying to figure it out. I was head down and focused on graduating so I could be more for kids. Once I graduated and had more children, I wanted to learn as much as possible and correct the things I didn’t know in the beginning,” says Tineisha Cooper, a mother of eight and participant in Hamilton, Ohio’s Early Head Start program.
Tineisha became a first-time mom at 16. Though she was married, she found that she needed additional support and a trusted, go-to source for information.
Tineisha, who’d grown up without her own mother in her life, says she quickly realized that there were gaps when it came to her understanding of how to raise a child. She knew she needed to grow her network of support.
“And it’s more than just making sure (my children are) fed and healthy,” says Tineisha. “I knew that I could be more, and that my children could do and be anything. I needed help, though, to know how to make it happen.”
After seeing a neighbor receive weekly visits and support through Early Head Start’s home visiting program, Tineisha reached out and found the support she needed. Her first goal was to help her two-year-old son, who wasn’t yet talking, learn the skills he needed to thrive.
“I wanted to be more engaged with his learning while he was still young, along with my other young children,” recalls Tineisha. “With each child, you can always be learning more. I didn’t know what my expectation was when I reached out to Early Head Start, but I saw how often the home visitor was coming over to my neighbor and saw that there was consistent support. I knew I needed and wanted that for me and my children.”
Through weekly home visits, Early Head Start’s home visiting program was able to help Tineisha and her new husband expand and elevate their parenting skills. She learned about baby’s cues and that crying doesn’t always mean a baby is hungry. She learned about the importance of reading every day to her children, and all of her children were interested in books and counting by age two.
Beyond that, Tineisha received emotional support and a listening ear that she previously didn’t have.
“It was never about ‘what are you bringing me today’ or ‘what can I get from this program,’” says Tineisha. “It was about opening my door and seeing a woman support another woman. She was teaching me to be a mom at the same time she was teaching my children.”
Early Head Start’s support extends far beyond home visiting. All of Tineisha’s eight children attended or will attend Early Head Start’s and Head Start’s child care programs, helping build and continue their social, emotional, and academic development. Tineisha was also able to use the interview skills she gained through Early Head Start’s Interview Ready program to transition out of her role at Walgreens and become a Corrections Officer for the county.
“The proudest moment of my life was getting to walk across the stage with my oldest daughter at her college graduation and tell her ‘You are going to be somebody,’” Tineisha says. “Now she’s a nursing student. I’m breaking generational cycles!”
After seven years of working with her home visitor, and receiving a constant stream of regular support, Tinesha’s home visitor is now a supervisor.
“She still calls me every day and tells me how proud she is of me. She got to see me at my worst and my best, and I’m a better mother for it. I am forever grateful that God helped me put my pride aside and reach out. I only wish more parents would.”