Danielle Evans: Serving Families in Sandusky

May 21, 2024

Danielle broadens children’s horizons as a home visitor for Early Head Start in Sandusky, MI. “I serve 10 families in a rural part of the state,” she says, “and we do a group socialization each month.” This gives Danielle and the families a chance to go on field trips that she and the parents pick out. “We’ve done cider mills in the spring and fall,” she says. “We’ve planted a garden. We’ve gone trick or treating, got together for Christmas parties and visited senior citizens at an assisted living home. We’ve gone to the zoo and the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum, which I like because it’s very hands on.”

And Danielle is very at home among the exhibits because she has a master’s degree in museum studies and a bachelor’s degree in classical studies. “I wanted to go into the museum education field,” she recalls, “and create classes for children”—a goal she pursued about 10 years ago as a volunteer at the Sanilac County Historic Village and Museum. “The museum wanted someone to teach children about history,” she says, “and I decided to spend some time on Native American history because two of my grandparents are Native. So, I brought in a Native American storyteller who told the children about Native cultures in our part of the country. We made Indian fry bread for a snack. We talked about Native instruments and music. I showed the children some arrowheads and a medicine bag that my grandparents had given me. And we learned some Native words—all to help children connect more with the past and realize the choices they make affect the future.”

And Danielle made a choice that changed her future and the profession she would pursue. “I realized I needed more experience teaching children to work in the museum education field. So, I decided to get a job at Cozy Corner Child Care Center in Kimball, MI. Then I fell in love with the little kids and child care became my passion,” Danielle says.

She worked at Cozy Corner from 2018 to 2021, with a short break to have her fourth child. After returning to work, Danielle earned her Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential™, so she could become a lead teacher. It turned out that CDA helped her in both her personal and professional life. “The CDA® was important for me,” she says, “because my degree focused on different aspects of history and education, rather than early learning. There is no way I could be the educator I am today without my CDA. It helped me know what kids need and how to help them through bad days when something isn’t clicking,” Danielle says.

The part of the CDA that clicked most with her was the knowledge she gained about behavior. “I loved the behavior classes I took, because they showed me what certain behaviors mean,” she says. Danielle learned to see the signs of issues like autism, oppositional defined disorder and language delays in the classroom. And the knowledge she gained also helped her at home. “The behavior classes I took made me understand my own children’s behavior better. I’d be reading something for one of my classes, look at one of my children, and realize, oh my gosh, that’s exactly why he’s doing this or that. So, the behavior classes also improved me as a mom.”

And that’s a big deal for Danielle because she and her husband have a big family of seven children. “I love being around my kids at home,” Danielle says. She also loves being around the children she’s been serving as a home visitor for the past three years. And parents value the sense of commitment that Danielle brings to her work. “We just did an internal review of Early Head Start sites in our region, and the review involved interviews of parents,” Danielle says. And one of the moms that Danielle served said she had never received so much support from a home visitor before. And that’s because Danielle thinks of all the children she serves as “my kids.”

She also cares about the low-income parents she helps and empathizes with the challenges they face, whether it’s health concerns or paying the bills. “Every time I get a new family,” Danielle says, “I go to see them with an open mind and listen carefully to their concerns. Sometimes I walk into a house and it’s a mess, but I try to be understanding. Maybe the mom had a rough day and didn’t feel like cleaning up,” Danielle says. She gives them the benefit of the doubt and sees later on that it was the right thing to do. “The next time I walk into the house, it’s spotless,” she says. “So, I really try to get to know a family before I make any judgments.”

This helps Danielle build bonds with the parents as she works with their children, many of whom have developmental delays. And she made an especially strong connection with Roberta, a foster mom whose 18-month-old son, Michael, was still crawling instead of walking. “Roberta couldn’t have children of her own, so she bent over backwards to get Michael the support he needed to thrive,” Danielle recalls. “After she brought Michael to my program, I assisted her in helping Michael get therapy, medical services and dental care, all of which made a big impact on the little boy.”

It turned out there was nothing physically wrong with the boy, as Danielle learned. He just didn’t have the nurturing and support he needed to develop and grow. “It turned out that his biological mom and dad had a history of drug abuse, child neglect and domestic violence,” Danielle says, “and the little boy had been through traumas that led to his delay. It didn’t help that the biological parents were fighting to keep him, so he was being jostled back and forth between the two homes until Roberta finally won the legal right to keep him for good. She invited me to come with her on the day she officially adopted Michael in court, and he’s flourishing now as he gets set to attend Head Start.” And it was wonderful to be a part of Michael and Roberta’s story, Danielle says. “You can tell how much she loves him and I’m so glad I got to play a role in helping them become the family they are now.”

Danielle loves watching children and parents grow, as she explains. “I’ve had most of the children I work with for several years. I’ve worked with their siblings, too, and the best reward of my job is when the children greet me with a big smile and hug when I walk in the door. Then I sit down on the floor with them, and it’s great to see them soak up everything as I sing songs to them, read stories and help them with any physical challenges they face. I also help the parents with the challenges they face, whether it’s health problems, housing or paying the bills. I talk to them about these issues and give them access to other organizations that can help.”

The parents and children are very at ease meeting with Danielle in their homes. But she knows how important it is for children to be with their peers. “The problem is that there isn’t an Early Head Start classroom in our rural county, and child care of any kind tends to be very costly and scarce around here. So, I do a play group once a month and all the children are invited,” she says. “It’s run like a classroom, so we have circle time, and we do small group activities. We practice fire and tornado drills”—all to help the children get socialized and be school ready someday. One of the best ways to broaden children’s horizons, as Danielle knows, is by giving them the chance to be with other kids.

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