Home is as much place as it is a sensation, especially for children. It’s where your family is, where you feel safe enough to sleep, where a day’s stress cannot find you. Even if it exists in more than one location, you know when you’re home, because the feeling is there.
For one child at Nurtury Harvard Street Cambridge, though, reality wasn’t so kind. His former foster parent had retired from the program, leaving him to shift into another, unfamiliar “home.” It was easy to see he was having trouble.
He did, however, like the Ninja Turtles, as he wore one of their shirts almost every day. Suzyann Miller the, Program Director, saw the opportunity to incorporate the Turtles into conversations with him, and he talked excitedly about all the Turtles by name. “I was surprised at how much he had to say, and to keep the conversations going, bought in some Ninja Turtle figures I thought the child might be interested in. He was, and the toys allowed him to talk about the everyday with me, about his likes, dislikes, behaviors, etc. When he doesn’t sleep at nap time — he almost never does — he sometimes finds it helpful to play with the Ninja Turtle figures. If he needs them, they’re always in a bag on the back of my office door. Some days he’s alright and the figures don’t come out, but they’re available just the same.”
At Nurtury, trauma in young children is apparent every day, so the center staff try to help and support families wherever they can. That could mean filling out applications for kindergarten, writing referrals, or just offering a listening ear.
In short, addressing the needs of children and families Nurtury’s reason for being, and their mission is a response to the challenges these children and their families face. For Suzyann, the goals are clear. “We assist families and children in need and encourage their growth and development in our community.” That means engaging both parents and their children in the learning process and providing support wherever possible.
Offering Children More Than a Just an Education
The Nurtury organization opened its first program in 1878 to care for the children of working mothers. The Cambridge office, established in 1966, provides education and care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, many of them from vulnerable families. Some, if not many, of these families are chaotic and unstable. As a result, stories like the above child’s are not uncommon, even if they differ in the details.
All Nurtury offices open at 7:30 in the morning and close at 5:30 in the afternoon. Staff work to ensure each child’s development is on track: mental, physical, social, and emotional skills are paramount, as are literacy and pre-math. The teachers are all college educated with either bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and all are certified childcare professionals. They know how important the education they’re offering is, but that doesn’t stop them from making plenty of time for play, too.
Educators are available to the kids at a teacher-student ratio that ensures they get the kind of individualized education and care they need. Children also receive balanced, nutritious breakfasts and lunches every day, and have a snack mid-afternoon.
Ultimately, Nurtury works to offer kids a safe, fun, and educational place where parents know they’ll be well cared for. Parents can also be confident that their child has grown a little as a result of their time in the program.
Every Day Matters
Every day, Nurtury staff work to provide the highest standard of care, in whatever ways are necessary. That dedication shows in the children’s smiles and the in the gratitude of the parents. Colleen O’Hara’s experienced this gratitude firsthand. “Parents come to me saying how they’re so grateful that their kids grew and prospered as a result of coming through the program, and that they knew they could trust us when it came to making theirs and their kids’ lives a little easier, a little more fun.”
In making life better and more enjoyable for kids, Nurtury makes it possible for their families to better enjoy what can sometimes be a very difficult life. Just seeing mom or dad smile at the end of the day can do wonders even for a child already in a happy mood. Spoken or unspoken, it’s clear how vital Nurtury’s services are, and how the center’s work is giving its students an outlook on life they might not have had otherwise.
Most of all though, being at Nurtury lets the kids be, well, kids. The kind of little ones who, if asked to say “Stinky feet” to share the perfect smile for a picture, take it a whole other way.
“She doesn’t have stinky feet!” a Nurtury kid once said. “Her feet are nice, and not stinky at all!”