WCC is My Second Home

Today, preschooler Alejandro Meza is busy at play at the Westside Children’s Center (WCC). It is hard to believe that just two years ago, he was a premature infant, born to a teenage mother.

Today, preschooler Alejandro Meza is busy at play at the Westside Children’s Center (WCC). It is hard to believe that just two years ago, he was a premature infant, born to a teenage mother.

Alejandro’s beginning is not uncommon. Between three and five percent of U.S. births are to teenage girls, many of whom lack the resources to provide a great start for their children. The WCC’s Early Head Start Program (EHS) has presented Alejandro and his mother, America Meza, with exactly that.

my-homeAmerica learned of EHS, a comprehensive child development program, designed to improve the quality of life for young children by strengthening families through intensive case management, parent education, and parent empowerment, through her mother, and enrolled Alejandro in the program when he was seven months old. America has been exceedingly pleased with her EHS experience. “Early Head Start helps me and my child learn,” she shared. “It helps us with everything.”

America has a history with the WCC, where Alejandro’s EHS program is based. She volunteered at the center 5 when her younger brother attended preschool at the WCC. “I saw how they took care of the kids,” she said. “And I always knew that if I ever had a baby, I would send him there.”

But America never anticipated the day would come so soon and be filled with so many mixed emotions. After learning of her pregnancy, America transferred to a high school with an independent study option. Thirty-three weeks and six days later, Alejandro was born. Weighing only three pounds, eight ounces, he was kept in the hospital under observation for three weeks.

Already overwhelmed, America faced yet another daunting task—the challenge of returning to school with Alejandro. “After giving birth, I missed two months of school and to be honest, I didn’t want to go back. It was just too much work,” she said.

America’s sentiment is common among teen mothers, two-thirds of whom never graduate from high school. Despite the statistics, America returned to school with her baby in tow and, for the next seven months, balanced school and child rearing. “It was hard to take him to school for three hours a day,” she shared. “I would carry my big bag of stuff for the baby, my backpack on the side, and Alejandro in the front.”

Feeling that this was not ideal or sustainable, America eagerly enrolled him in WCC’s EHS Program. While it was difficult to leave him at first, she quickly discovered that she had made the right choice for her son. “I see that Alejandro is always smiling,” America said. “He does it all here.”

Alejandro’s teacher, Brenda Diaz has seen Alejandro hit major developmental milestones. “Alejandro’s motor and language skills have greatly improved since he started in the program. It just shows how important early intervention is for children,” she said.

EHS also promotes skills and resiliency in families to ensure their success as a whole. America described this as a learning experience for both she and Alejandro. Without EHS, America acknowledges that life would be very different. “I would not go to school, have meetings, and know all of these parents,” she explained. Her involvement with the center has also given her the opportunity to engage in EHS policy making. She is currently serving on both the EHS policy council and The WCC Board of Directors. “I do it because it helps me see how the program works,” she explained, “and to show other parents that we can be involved in our kids’ community.”

Now, each day, America rides up to the WCC on her bike, with Alejandro tightly fastened to his child seat. She will graduate from high school this June. Alejandro is a happy and thriving 18-month-old toddler.

“WCC is my second home…it is the best place I’ve ever been.”