Group of three female Early Head Start staff with a baby.

L-R: Madeline González, Mabel Gonzalez and Maria Perez with Sally, Mabel’s youngest childcare attendee, who is 11 months old.

Mabel Gonzalez has been a Tampa YMCA Early Head Start program childcare provider for 12 years. She has enjoyed it so much that she consulted the Y on where the need was the greatest and bought a house in Brandon just to be able to accommodate more children. She has now doubled the number of full-time children in her care to eight.

“We provide a safe and educational environment for kids. But, most importantly the big benefit is that we are at no cost to eligible families; and an all-day childcare provider,” she says.

Mabel estimates about 50 children have gone through her childcare facility in the dozen years of operation. The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA Early Head Start Program is a delegate agency of the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners Head Start/Early Head Start Program. Our goal is to partner with family childcare homes throughout specific zip codes in Hillsborough County, providing full-day, full-year comprehensive services to children and their families, ages six weeks to three years old.

Speaking of which, as we celebrate American Education Week from November 13-17, 2023, Early Head Start focuses on school readiness and ensures all children are prepared to take the next step in their educational journey by developing age-appropriate activities and lessons. The initiative prepares children for Head Start, which is for 3-5-year-olds.

“What sets apart the YMCA’s Early Head Start program is that we have the resources in place to accept a larger demographic and serve communities that need childcare the most. Whether it is special needs or accommodations, we partner with community organizations such as a nurse (as needed) or therapists for speech/motor delays. We can mold to the child’s needs. It’s wrap-around support,” explains Maria Perez, Tampa Y’s Family and Community Engagement Specialist.

The Tampa Y has 15 childcare homes with 80 slots across the County featuring the capacity for four or eight children. The key to the YMCA Early Head Start is family and community engagement. Collaboration with parents begins during the application process and continues throughout their participation in the program. Parents are provided with resources that help them attain goals or help with needs to improve their lives and achieve success.

The program is made possible by Federal Government Funds through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. It is for families who meet the federal poverty guidelines. Eligibility criteria for families also include experiencing homelessness, the child in foster care, or the family receiving public assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Parents must also meet our employment requirements to be eligible.

“Early Head Start is not only about childcare, but we also care about all aspects of a family's well-being. Our program provides case management, education, resources, and other services to make sure families are self-sufficient,” adds Maria.

Doris Velez, Program Director of Early Head Start at the Tampa Y notes, “we believe every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. Through the Tampa Y’s Early Head Start Program, our commitment is to promote the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of infants and toddlers through safe and nurturing developmental care.”

Click here for the program application. You can support the Early Head Start Program here.

Published Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.