Program aims to help Chicago families experiencing homelessness, other struggles

What looks like play time is serious learning, especially for young and vulnerable children on Chicago's South Side.

"Here at this particular center, we probably work with about 50-percent of families that are experiencing homelessness," said Aminah Wyatt-Jones, Vice President of Childhood Programs at Ada S. McKinley Community Services.

Aminah Wyatt-Jones knows there are plenty more children who would benefit from an early childhood program like one at Heaven's Learning Garden in Auburn Gresham. Ada S. McKinley Community Services partners with them to provide federal head start programs and a whole lot more.

"We really help set people in a pathway just for lifelong success," said Wyatt-Jones.

Once the kids are enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start, that’s when help for the entire family begins.

"It's not just only about housing, but it's also the families are dealing with toxic stressors that really make it hard for families to live every day. We are able to offer mental health support, be able to provide an overall safety net for those families to make sure that they have all the resources they need to make that family whole," said Wyatt-Jones.

Mykela Collins is a family ambassador for Ada S. McKinley, as part of a new program to locate families on Chicago's South and West side who need the help, like she once did.

Her sales pitch is mostly telling other families what the early learning center meant for her and her children.

"The day I walked into that center, it felt like home to me. My daughter loved that Head Start program that she was in. And I think that is one of the reasons why she's so successful now. My son has learned so much. Even through remote learning he has engaged and learned so much," she said.

As children dressed up and enjoyed an early Thanksgiving feast Tuesday, the goal is bringing more children to the table, giving them a head start on learning and perhaps a whole lot to be thankful for, for years to come.