Following Through

Three months ago there was a situation that arose regarding teaching staff being summarily removed from the Early Head Start class Luna had attended for two years. More about that can be read here. As a result of that circumstance, I pledged that, if we would be able to continue to work with the agency, this year I would involve myself in the process and engage with the Policy Council and become part of the Personnel Committee.

I told the Home Visitor assigned to our family about my experience and she was very excited to have me volunteer to be the Representative for the Home Based parents. She has been encouraging and last week she reiterated her belief in me and stated that “they” would be lucky to have me and would recognize what an asset I would be to the council.

During the training we were given information on how the program is governed and administered, the role of the Policy Council, and how Policy Council meetings were to be structured and operated. We were also informed that at the next meeting, which would be in three days, we would be electing officers and representatives, so to be in thought and consideration about the level of involvement we wanted to engage in within the Council itself.

Chairperson and Vice-Chair had little appeal to me. I don’t want to be in charge of setting the agenda or being a neutral party and not being able to vote unless there is a tie. The concept of being the Secretary and being responsible for taking notes and compiling them for the meetings was a bit beyond my current scope of ability. I am too easily distracted and have difficulty focusing if there are other voices, if the environmental factors are uncomfortable, and if I’m experiencing fibro-symptoms, which is currently most of the time.

State-Representative and the position to attend Board of Director meetings as a non-voting representative both really appealed to me. State Rep has three meetings in the year where they attend meetings where reps from the other Policy Councils from other Head Start Programs get together and exchange ideas, information, and work together in the improvement of the program services and parent involvement. The other position was interesting in the fact that the representative gets to be more involved and interactive with the Board and gain a more comprehensive insight and involvement in the operational processes of the organization. Finally, there was an educational and training opportunity for one parent to attend the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference from December 1 – 5 in Dallas, Tx.

I REALLY felt the desire and interest to do any of these three things and raised my hand to do each of them. Since I haven’t had the desire to do much of anything lately, it was surprising to have that interest rise up for me. It also meant that I very quickly became overly attached to the idea of being in one of these positions.

So did several other people. Only one person wanted Chairperson. Two people wanted Vice-Chair, and only one person wanted Secretary. There were two available slots for the State Rep position.

Most of the people who “campaigned” for the positions talked about their minority status: Hispanic/bi-lingual and African American, or the fact that they had the challenges of single-parenting, working, and going to school. Several talked about their professional and educational accomplishments. Mostly though, their focus seemed to be on what they wanted to get for themselves and their children out of the experience, with only peripheral statements as to how they wanted to work on behalf of our council and the organization we were part of.

I listened to all of this and tried to think of what I could say that would differentiate me and my experience from the rest. I also wanted to present myself in a way that would show that I was here to advocate for organization improvements and change in how families are supported and selected for program participation.

When I first saw the number of hands rise, I felt this fatalistic dread start to drown out the hope and interest. Anxiety and a small sense of panic at having to try to convince a roomful of absolute strangers that I could do these jobs started drowning out the courage and confidence in my own ability, experience, and knowledge. The more I heard the others speak of their accomplishments and thought about the failures in my inability to have finished my education, stay consistently employed, or event to establish and maintain healthy and functional networks and relationships with others, the more I felt inadequate to put myself forward as a candidate. I raised my hand each time, anyway.

When I did get a chance to speak, I stood up and all the thoughts about how I wanted to represent myself flew out of my mind. I nervously looked around the room and began speaking. I made eye contact and as I spoke acknowledged the various competitors and where I had some commonality with them. I told my personal story about nearly losing access to the program and the fact that untreated mental health and physical health issues had come into play. I identified that mental health issues in families tend to result in punitive results with the parents losing custody to their children and the fact that this is an under-served population, but as or more at-risk as the other populations being represented and that I wanted to be that voice and advocate for change.

My voice was shaky, my attempts to look around and connect probably appeared my jerky than I wanted. I got a little teary and choked up and lost some cohesion to my thoughts and words and my articulation diminished accordingly. I didn’t get chosen for any of the three positions.

Both of the State Rep slots went to other women who were younger, seemed more energetic, spoke about having professional and educational experience in doing things like networking and student government. They both also had a combination of single-parenting, educational, and employment obligations going on. The person who got elected to attend the Parent Conference had shown up to the meeting late and talked about why she had wanted to be the Chairperson, but missed out on that.

Cynicism, resentment, and bitterness rose up like bile in the back of my throat. I was very disappointed and immediately started thinking of the things that should have and could have been done differently to make it more equitable and perhaps allow those wanting to engage in these opportunities to have a better chance at getting heard and considered.

The thing is though, the people voting were my peers. All women who are dealing with a lot of issues outside of that room. Everyone is conditioned to give votes to the slickest presentation and the most put together face in the crowd. This is what happened.

Something that also happened were that the two program professionals in the room: the man who has been the administrative Program Director for over 20 years and the woman who is the Program Director for the Early Head Start (EHS) portion of the program, both acknowledged and validated my contribution and presence, at various points throughout the meeting that followed after the elections. As I was leaving, the EHS Director called my name and reminded/invited me to sign up to be on the Health Services Advisory (board, committee, or council – not sure which) that is another point of involvement.

So, I am a voting Policy Council member and the only representative the 40 Home Based families have. I am on the Personnel Committee and will be involved the Health Services Advisory aspect of the program.

In leaving the meeting one of the others who had also been passed over for all three opportunities told me she was surprised that neither of us had been selected. We talked about our disappointment. Then I was able to say with sincerity, that it is probable that I wasn’t as ready to take on those things as I wanted to be and that when the time comes that my readiness is there, other opportunities will arise.

Gratitude Day 14

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to engage in the democratic process and work with others toward advocacy and change for us as families and parents and on behalf of our children and future generations.