When Heather Molyneaux dropped off an early childhood development kit at the home of a single mother, she was greeted by a little girl who wrapped her leg in a fierce hug. While Heather helped set up the Zoom classes for the older children, the little girl dug into her new development kit, showing Heather each toy as she pulled them out to play.
“She would give me the biggest smile every time I looked at her and played with one of the toys...showing her mother how to use them,” Heather remembers. “It truly touched my heart to have this experience dropping off the [development kits] to this family and to see how happy it made this little girl.”
The kits first manifested as a project to cultivate early cognitive development in newly arrived refugee children. This project addresses needs long-identified by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s resettlement, health and education programs. The IRC in Salt Lake City’s early childhood development intervention project is crucial to the developmental health, growth, and overall well-being of young children ages 3-4 years, a particular age group long-identified as lacking educational and developmental resources. Thanks to a generous award from the Beck Family Foundation, the IRC is working to close the gap in resources.
“The biggest challenge I experienced with the [development kits] was [the COVID-19 pandemic],” Heather, the life skills & education access AmeriCorps shares. Shortly after the team finished their research and initiated this project, the virus reached Utah causing shutdowns. According to Heather they “had several meetings and brainstorming sessions on how [the team] could get these kits delivered safely to the homes and instruct the parents and children on what they were for and how to use them."
After a test trial, the education program supervisor, Krysti Nellermoe, returned from maternity leave just in time to create instructional videos with her two-year-old daughter, demonstrating how to interact with the toys inside of the kit. “This was the biggest success of the project as the videos turned out beautifully,” Heather reflects.
The kits provide culturally and age-appropriate books and toys to build foundational learning skills and encourage communication, which promotes social and emotional development through self-expression. Heather also points out that these kits provide another important benefit: fun. These skills develop through play and give children something exciting to focus on. For parents, like one father currently parenting his three young children alone while waiting for his wife to join him in the United States, these kits brought a welcome reprieve.
“It’s about their level of happiness and joy, too,” Heather shares. “This was huge for [their family], just to have something to do.”
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