BILLINGS - Young Families Early Head Start has been a part of Billings since the early 1980's.
It started as a way to help teenage parents, but has blossomed into a community program that assists parents from all walks of life.
As the ABC song and little voices filled the hallway at the Cook Avenue location on a recent morning in August, it was evident that Young Families Early Head Start is a place of learning, creativity and care.
“Early childhood development is coming a long way. People understand how important it is now. That it’s not just daycare, it’s child development. Kids are learning skills that are going to help them the rest of their lives,” said Quinn Curry, the director of health and wellness at Young Families.
The Young Families program is the answer families seek, when dreams are big, but reality seems bleak.
“Families can continue to work, go to school, without having concern for how they’re going to afford to pay for childcare. We offer quality services, so they know that their children are safe, well taken care of,” Curry said.
Mothers Skye Riojas and Marissa Sudberry know all about that peace of mind. They discovered they were pregnant during high school, but thanks to the Young Families program, it didn’t stop them from graduating.
“A lot of teen parents, they’re like ‘Oh, I can’t make it through school,’ but Young Families really helped. They are very determined to help us graduate,” Sudberry said.
“We are able to manage everything we wanted to do, and pursue our goals,” Riojas added.
Both are already achieving their goals. Sudberry has a CNA license with a goal of becoming a forensic nurse. Riojas is a cosmetologist.
They feel they’re setting the stage to raise successful, healthy children.
“I didn’t have a very great life growing up. My mom wasn’t the best mom, and I was always in and out of foster care. So I just want to give her the life that I never had,” Sudberry said when talking about her 9-month-old daughter Alayna.
“I hope my baby does everything he can do, and knows that he can do as much as I can, if not more,” Riojas said about her 1-year-old son Amias.
Although Riojas and Sudberry found common ground, every story at Young Families is different.
Kelly Massey was thrust into fatherhood while he was incarcerated.
Four months before his sentence was complete, he was notified he has a daughter, and the choice to be her full-time guardian was his to make.
He took the responsibility head-on, vowing to change his life for his daughter Trudence.
She’s currently enrolled in the Early Head Start program.
Like many of the other parents in the program, Massey expressed he is grateful it offers quality education without the financial strain.
“I hope that more children, or all children, actually, could have access to quality child care. I don’t know exactly what that will look like because, as you may know, childcare is very expensive, and so we want to keep those families that are paying out of pocket, we want to make this affordable to them. So that every child going to kindergarten is ready. They’re not behind. They know what to expect. They understand this is about school readiness. So my dream would be that everyone has access to that, in one way or another,” Curry said.
Only a fraction of the spots in the Head Start program are federally funded, but grants and community support fill the gap.
That’s where the Farm Fork Families event comes in. Scheduled to take place Saturday, September 14 at 5 p.m., the 6th annual event is their biggest fundraiser of the year.
Tickets are available by calling Young Families at 259-2007.
Wendy Wheeler, the program’s executive director explained every ticket sold goes a long way.
“Our community support is what keeps us going here at Young Families. Without it, we might not be able to have our doors open and it’s super impressive to see the Billings community kind of wrap their arms around us and keep us going,” Wheeler said.
Tickets are $60 each and this year’s event will take place at Ben Steele Middle School at 5650 Grand Ave. in Billings.