Last April, Antoine Robinson was hired as a maintenance man at the Bright Beginnings preschool in Southeast Washington.

The way Robinson does his job makes a lot of people happy, but there’s one person in particular he’s eager to impress: his 3-year-old son, Amir, a student at the school.

“It’s just a feeling I get when I walk in the classroom, even though I’m only cleaning the bathroom and taking the trash out,” he said. “He sees me doing it. And even though he’s only 3, I know he understands that I’m working. He sees me in the building. I’m always here. So that was a good thing for me.”

Bright Beginnings helps children growing up in families experiencing homelessness. It helps the parents, too. I first wrote about Robinson last year. He’s a single parent and was becoming active in a new Bright Beginnings program that brings dads together every Monday to discuss the challenges of fatherhood.

The staff at the school saw how involved Robinson was with his son and with the fatherhood initiative. Robinson had had different jobs over the years — including construction work and delivering newspapers — but wanted something more stable.

“Everybody was anxious for me to work here,” he said.

When a job opened up, Robinson applied. He started nine months ago.

“You know, when you work somewhere and you enjoy a job and everybody around it, it makes you just want to work even harder,” he said.

He’s already been promoted once, to lead maintenance man in the handsome building on Fourth Street SE that’s home to the infant and toddler program.

“This is my building,” said Robinson, 28. “I know where everything is and where everything goes. It’s like, I’m the man. When people are tugging on you for work — ‘Hey Antoine, can you do this?’ ‘Hey Antoine, can you do that?’ — that feels good.”

Since then, Amir has “graduated” to the Bright Beginnings’ building on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where the pre-K 3- and 4-year-olds are.

Bright Beginnings has a two-generation approach to defeating poverty and homelessness. While children learn, parents get support in areas such as entering the workforce, budgeting, enjoying healthy relationships and cooking nutritious meals.

A Bright Beginnings family advocate helped Robinson and Amir find stable housing, too. They had been staying with various family members, but they now live in a two-bedroom apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The goal of Bright Beginnings is to get kids ready for kindergarten. Robinson does his part.

“I always ask Amir about how his day at school was: ‘What did you do? Who did you play with?’

“The teachers tell us that all the time: Ask more questions. Ask questions that lead to more questions. When we interact with our kids, the goal is to get as much information out of them as possible.”

Robinson says he wants to do for his son what his own father wasn’t able to do for him. The revelation has been that Amir helps Robinson grow, too.

“If it wasn’t for Amir, I don’t know what my life would be,” Robinson said. “When I had Amir, that’s when I completely started to change.

“The change was always in me. You know how you have to have certain experiences in your life to bring it out? That’s what Amir did. He just brought out everything in me that I wanted to do.

“That’s what I do now. That’s what I continue to do. It’s all for my son. When I do it for my son, it gets better for me.”

This year, Robinson will start taking HVAC classes at Prince George’s Community College, his tuition paid by Bright Beginnings.

“I want to have my own legacy,” he said.

Robinson envisions acquiring more skills, earning certifications and building a business. I asked whether he imagines working alongside Amir one day.

“I see that. I see that,” he said. “I’m trying to lay some type of foundation down. People are always saying to dream big — and then dream bigger.”

Lend a Helping Hand

Bright Beginnings is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising drive for worthy area charities. This is the last column I’ll write about Bright Beginnings. Our campaign ends Friday. We’re close to our goal of $250,000. Can you help put us over the top?

To give, visit and click “Donate.” To contribute by mail, make a check payable to Bright Beginnings and send it to the following address: Bright Beginnings, Attn: Helping Hand, 3418 Fourth St. SE, Washington DC 20032.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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