A dozen families shared dozens of smiles on Friday, June 21 as they watched their four-year-olds accept their preschool diplomas at the Child Crisis Arizona Phoenix Early Education campus.

Each year Child Crisis Arizona provides quality preschool at a very low cost to 28 children whose families are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. This year 12 of those children graduated and will move on to kindergarten in the fall.

“It was awe inspiring,” said Kelli Berry, Principle Designer at Iconic Design Studio and donor to Child Crisis Arizona, who attended the ceremony. “I thought Child Crisis Arizona was purely rescue–keeping a safe place and finding homes. I didn’t know you holistically cared for these children and mentored them… It’s an exponential growth experience where the child learns and grows; and receives opportunity; and recognizes their power and ability to move, and change, and grow, and do better; and the parents benefit from this as well and even the friends of the parents. It creates tentacles of knowledge that penetrate the community.”

Many of the children graduating from preschool came up through the Early Head Start program which assigns a Family Support Specialist to work with mothers in the community who are pregnant or have a childbirth through age 3. These Family Support specialists work with the families one-on-one to provide resources and support and to ensure the children are getting the best education and healthcare possible

Kelli Berry, Principle Designer for Iconic Design Studio, signs a book for children graduating from the Child Crisis Arizona Preschool.

as well as opportunities to socialize with other children and families.

“It’s so emotional,” said Joanna Bellizzi, Family Support Assistant Manager for Child Crisis Arizona. “I look at their baby pictures and I know firsthand what the parents went through to get here. I just feel such appreciation that we are able to provide this for them so they could have this experience and be ready for kindergarten. They’ve been safe here and families have been safe here… We see people who’ve been through such trauma get here and start dealing with it and wanting to raise their kids differently and we give them an opportunity to do so. It’s great.”

The program strongly encourages families to be an active participant in their child’s education and the success of that was evident as family, friends and staff crowded into the graduation. The families were treated to a photo slide show of their children over the years and then live songs (in English and Spanish) from the children before diplomas were passed out. Each of the children graduating received a new book to take home as well as a new uniform and backpack full of supplies for when they start kindergarten in the fall.

In all of its early education services, Child Crisis Arizona strives to assist families who are low-income and linguistically isolated. Families in our program also complete an extensive questionnaire that assesses various other risk factors. The children whose families score the highest in risk factors, coupled with income considerations, are accepted into the program as long as space is available. Program acceptance is made without regard to ethnicity, religious belief, or other classification factors.