Sandy Shusterman was lost. After a painful divorce, she was left with nothing but her car and three children. She moved her family back to Blythewood, S.C. to live with her mother. Health issues, including multiple sclerosis and hyperthyroidism, made it challenging for her to work and Sandy struggled to branch out on her own. Hoping to give her family the opportunities they deserved, she sought to provide her children with the education they needed to succeed. Sandy got involved with GLEAMNS Human Resources Commission and enrolled her youngest daughter, Destiny, in their Head Start program.
As a community action agency, GLEAMNS assists low-income families with job training, home weatherization and youth programs. GLEAMNS Head Start aims to increase school readiness and social competence of young children though education, early childhood development, parent involvement, and family services.
Destiny, now 6, began Head Start at the age of 4. She never attended preschool before and only knew what she had learned from her mother and siblings. In the program, Destiny grew into an eager young scholar. “I couldn’t teach my daughter anything, and now she’s doing wonderfully,” Sandy said. “The program helped her adjust to a school setting and equipped her with skills to flourish.”
Sandy not only saw growth in her daughter, but also in other families within her neighborhood.
“GLEAMNS makes a difference in so many lives,” she said. “They teach the importance of education and being involved. It starts with children and families and then the community. It’s a step-up process that benefits everyone.”
GLEAMNS has also inspired Sandy’s career goals. Seeing how the program impacted families around her helped Sandy realize her passion for education and desire to contribute to this cause. “When you enroll, they ask you about your goals for your family,” she said. “I thought about what I was going to do to better our future. I always wanted to go back to school and decided I wanted to study early childhood development.”
Sandy enrolled in Kaplan University to earn her degree online. She received her associate degree last July and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree. Sandy’s roles as a parent and advocate with Head Start provide invaluable experience for her studies. Since 2010, she has attended training sessions and conferences, traveled to Washington D.C. as a representative, and served as chair of the Head Start Policy Council and the South Carolina State Head Start Association Parents and Friends Affiliates.
“Before GLEAMNS I felt like I had nowhere to turn; that I could never do anything, be anything or provide anything for my kids,” she said. “Getting involved with GLEAMNS proved me wrong. I thought I was a complete failure, but look at what I’ve done. The children and everyone else involved in the Head Start program have really been the driving force behind all of my accomplishments.”
After graduating, Sandy hopes to become a teacher at Head Start and work her way up to serve as case manager and eventually center coordinator. “Getting the community to work together to better everyone’s lives – that’s what I’m hoping to accomplish,” she said. “All because the staff and volunteers from GLEAMNS Head Start believed in me and motivated me to become the professional I am today. I felt like my life was over and now I have something to fight for and believe in.”
For more information about GLEAMNS Human Resource Commission, please visit www.gleamnshrc.org.