McCane said Zhion likes the sounds on the Metrobus: the beeps and bells and recorded messages. He likes seeing himself on the closed-circuit camera. Perhaps he’s thinking about his next adventure. Zhion, his grandmother said, thinks he’s Spider-Man.
McCane is the real superhero. Two years ago, she received a call that Zhion was in danger of being placed in foster care. She knew she couldn’t let that happen. Complicating things was the fact that McCane had recently lost her housing and moved in with her mother.
But, she said, “my family wouldn’t allow any child of ours to be put into foster care.” McCane stepped up and become Zhion’s primary caregiver.
Soon after, McCane heard from Zhion’s pediatrician about Bright Beginnings. The nonprofit preschool was founded in 1990 by the Junior League of Washington to help children who were growing up in families experiencing homelessness.
At the start, that seemed like enough. But it wasn’t long before everyone realized if a child can use help, a parent probably can, too. Today, Bright Beginnings embraces a two-generation approach that directs as much attention at Mom and Dad as at the child. And at grandparents, aunts and uncles, too.
“What I really like about Bright Beginnings is it’s very family-oriented,” McCane said. “They involve the families as much as possible, which is awesome to me.”
Zhion was 1 when McCane enrolled him in Bright Beginnings. Back then, he was in the school’s home-based program, visited regularly by a Bright Beginnings teacher. In March, a spot opened for him at the school, which has two locations: a brand-new building on Fourth Street SE for infants and toddlers, and a prekindergarten program for 3- and 4-year-olds on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
That’s where Zhion goes — “He calls it ‘the big school,’ ” McCane said. He’s in the classroom of teacher Tara Perry, who has taught at Bright Beginnings for 20 years.
While Zhion learns (and plays and naps), his grandmother takes advantage of other Bright Beginnings initiatives.
“I’m involved in all the programming,” McCane said. “Well, most of the programming.”
About the only one she isn’t a regular at is the fatherhood initiative, which in only its first year has become one of the most popular Bright Beginnings offerings. (Zhion’s father, De Monte, participates, McCane said.)
Every Monday, McCane goes to Connections, where mothers of Bright Beginnings students meet to talk about parenting. There’s a healthy eating class, too, and another on forming healthy relationships.
McCane works at a 10-hour-a-week paid internship at Bright Beginnings, and volunteers around the school beyond that.
She’s working now toward her child development associate certification. Studying for the CDA involves taking classes twice a week and one Saturday a month. Then comes the three-part certification process: exam, observation and a portfolio. Bright Beginnings is helping McCane with this. She’ll take the test in March.
McCane also wants to move into a place of her own. She said she has been on a waiting list for subsidized housing in the District for more than 15 years. She’s hoping that in the new year she can find an apartment through the city’s inclusionary zoning program, which sets aside low-cost units in new buildings. That would allow her to move with Zhion and her 18-year-old daughter, Di’Mari, a college student.
“Zhion is doing great now,” said McCane.
That’s thanks to her love — and the support they both get from Bright Beginnings.
How to help
You can support it by visiting posthelpinghand.com and clicking “Donate.” To give by mail, make a check payable to “Bright Beginnings” and send it to: Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington, D.C. 20032.