Our Stories

Our Stories

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Our Families Are Stronger

For over seven years, Child and Family Opportunities, Inc. has been a willing and capable partner with University of Maine-Machias, bringing essential childcare services and education to our region. CFO is helping UMM to meet a commitment made to the region when the campus sought support from the community to build the Flaherty Center in order to provide much needed childcare for the greater community. Our families are stronger because of the education and care Child and Family Opportunities provides for children. Joyce Hedlund, President University of Maine-Machias

Dedicated and Talented Staff

It is an honor and a pleasure to work with the dedicated and talented staff at CFO. Educational and other services to families and children are superb. I am proud to be part of the team! Lynn Carroll, Mental Health Consultant 10/7/15

Hector Sapien

Leader in Downeast Maine

Happy birthday Child & Family Opportunities!! You have been a leader in Downeast Maine raising the bar in providing high quality child care in Maine. As a Mental Health Consultant, I work with your committed and impassioned staff doing what they can for the children and families they serve. Cheers! Hector Sapien, LCSW CYC-P 10/7/15

Michael Eastman RSU24

Congratulations From RSU 24

Congratulations to Child and Family Opportunities! The partnerships they provide with our schools continue to have an important impact on our students. Pre-kindergarten is, by far, one of the most important and influential learning experiences that we can provide our students. Creating a solid and stable foundation for our young learners is an essential piece to their future success. Again, congratulations on this important milestone! Michael Eastman, Superintendent RSU 24

Great Community Resource

I was first introduced to Child and Family Opportunities in Ellsworth about 12 or so years ago, right after I became a full time preschool teacher with the Down East Family YMCA. I was brand new to the field of Early Childhood Education and was in need of professional training. Through the immensely talented and gifted employees of Child and Family Opportunities, our YMCA childcare staff was able to receive some of the best professional development training in Hancock County. Through the expertise of the on-site trainers, CFO has helped the professional growth of not only myself, but other providers. I am so thankful to have CFO as a resource in our community for families, children, and providers. Happy 45th Anniversary to a wonderful organization. I wish you another successful 45 years! My best ~ Jessica Montgomery, Down East Family YMCA Early Learning Center Director 8/24/15

Amy Peterson Roper_Ellsworth Elementary Principal

Wonderful Collaboration

The collaboration that CFO and Ellsworth Elementary Middle School has shared for the past five years has been wonderful. It is so wonderful to know that our partnership has benefited so many families. The programming that children receive through the CFO Pre-K program is rich and the children have more readiness skills, both academically and socially, to assure success in Kindergarten.
Amy Peterson-Roper, Principal Ellsworth Elementary School 9/28/15

Bonnie from600

A Life Changed

When thinking about the story I wanted to share for CFO’s 45th anniversary, many ideas crossed my mind. I have three sons who all attended Child and Family Opportunities’ Head Start program.

I could speak about classroom curriculum and my perspective on witnessing how activities were targeted to meet my children’s needs, and were based on their skills and interests. I could tell about how children are always supported- educationally and emotionally, and how my children were included and lovingly guided through this important developmental stage in life.

In this program I watched my boys learn, grow, make friends, master new skills, and flourish. However, the most important thing that Head Start educators did for my children was to believe in their mother. Me. They helped me understand that no parent is perfect, they accepted me, and they had the tools I needed to be a better parent. They inspired me by the example they set each day.

To understand the magnitude of my words, one has to understand where I came from. I grew up in extreme abuse, and was signed over to the State when I was 13. I spent my teen years bouncing between foster homes, the streets, and wherever I could find a kind heart to offer some shelter from the storm of my life.

By the time I was 17, and pregnant, I was officially my own worst enemy. I had been expelled from schools, in trouble with the law, and had battled addictions. And I was terrified of being a mother. I knew what not to do, but didn’t know how do it right. I didn’t have the skills, yet I did the best I could because, in my son I discovered love that I had never known before.

I crossed paths with CFO when I was 21 years-old, and was the mother of a 3 year-old, and an infant. I was struggling, and the Head Start program showed up exactly when I needed it. On my first home visit, I asked about discipline. I was told about redirection and positive reinforcement. I remember thinking “That classroom must be nuts!” and I pictured complete chaos, with no rules or consequences, and teachers just trying to keep the walls standing. That was no place I wanted to be.

Despite my doubts, I visited the center. When I walked in, I was blown away. The classroom felt good. It was warm and inviting. It was busy and filled with happy voices, laughter, and singing. If a child struggled, he was met with compassion and empathy, not anger. It was a place of exciting stories, thinking questions, kind hands and words, and learning through play! I saw that children didn’t have to be shamed into behaving. They didn’t need to feel bad about who they were. Their spirits didn’t have to be broken, and they didn’t have to be afraid. It was life-changing.

I began to volunteer in the center where my children were enrolled, and went on to be hired by the agency. I held many roles in my time at CFO, from active parent volunteer, to teacher in the classroom, to family advocate. Throughout the years, Head Start helped my personal growth and gave me a professional path. This program makes a difference in people’s lives, and I am proof of that.

Statistics say that my life should have been different. My children’s lives could have been very different. Head Start helped me rise up and stop a cycle of dysfunction that had plagued my family for generations. That is pretty big stuff. How do you say “Thank you” for that?

It has been 23 years since I first encountered Head Start at Child and Family Opportunities, and I’m happy that this work continues on today. Thank you for what you do every day for children and families. Thank you for what you have done for mine. We can change the world, one child, one family, one connection at a time. Happy Anniversary! – Bonnie Stewart, Former Parent 4/7/2015

Gretchen and Laela 1003

Courage and Perseverance on the Path to Success: Gretchen’s Story

When you meet Gretchen, the single mom of four-year-old Laela, you get the sense that she’s smart, determined, and knows exactly what she wants. This is one confident woman. But it hasn’t always been that way.

At the age of ten Gretchen was uprooted from everything familiar in her life. Feeling lost, she became an angry, rebellious teen. “At 16,” she says, “I became seriously involved with drugs and alcohol. Back surgery introduced me to pain medication, and I was immediately hooked.” Gretchen soon spiraled downward into full blown addiction.

Gretchen rode a drug and alcohol roller coaster until the age of 27. “I was aware that my life needed to change,” she says. “I wasn’t capable of making good choices. I was in bad shape, and in a bad relationship. The minute I found out I was pregnant, I quit that life and I began focusing on building a new one.” Gretchen says, “As a single mom I was terrified. I had no idea how to raise a child and even less ability to support us.”

Public assistance seemed to be the answer, but it was a hard decision. “I didn’t want to depend on DHHS. I walked up to their door five different times before I was finally able to walk through it,” Gretchen says. With public assistance came the opportunity to go to college. But college meant finding childcare for Laela. “If I had to leave Laela,” Gretchen says, “it was important that she was in an environment that was safe, and where she wouldn’t be plopped in front of a TV.”

Gretchen heard that Child and Family Opportunities’ Early Head Start program at the Flaherty Early Care and Education Center could be the answer to what she was seeking for her daughter. From the very beginning, the Flaherty Center staff and programming provided Gretchen and Laela with the structure, stability, and quality education experience they were looking for. “Laela was a very quiet infant,” Gretchen says, “but she started flourishing as soon as she entered the program. She started making regular baby noises and doing all the things babies do. And, the staff were incredible!” Gretchen remembers with a big smile on her face.

Also at the center, Gretchen found the parenting support, encouragement, and skills she needed, “Diane and the staff at Flaherty Center reassured me that I was doing the right things,” Gretchen says. “Even now, they help ground me when I’m being pulled in a million directions. Sometimes,” she says, “it feels like they’re Laela’s co-parents.”

Now that Laela has moved from infancy to preschool, it is clear that she has had many opportunities to learn and grow in an experience-rich environment. Gretchen can’t say enough about her family’s Head Start experience, “Laela is so smart, and her vocabulary is amazing! She gets along really well with other children.”

Head Start helped Gretchen grow too. She serves as a member of the Parent Policy Council, has spoken before the Maine State Legislature, and she has attended Head Start conferences outside the State of Maine. All of these activities enhanced her college work and helped her decide on a career path. “Public advocacy,” she says, “so I can help others improve their lives too.”

As far as they have come, life still has its challenges. Gretchen no longer qualifies for public assistance and she works two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. Yet, she is working hard to meet her goal of finishing college before Laela starts kindergarten, and is looking forward to graduating in May.

Laela is flourishing in a Public Pre-K program in their community. Gretchen says, “With all the support Laela and I have been given, through the Head Start program, I just know she’ll be equipped to make better choices than I did. I feel like I’ve had a great team alongside me to help me raise my child.”

Clearly this smart, determined, and courageous woman has a very bright future to look forward to, and so does Laela. – Gretchen, Former Parent 12/11/2014

Clarice attends CFO 45th anniversary celebration.

I Knew It Immediately!

Right out of college I was looking for a medical assistant job but I found an ad for a childcare worker, called my advisor, and she said, “Go for it!” I compiled a resume, was called for an interview, and within two days I had a call to come back for an hour of classroom observation.

I stayed for three hours that day, went outside with the class, and remember a child playing at the water table who took a bucket of water and dumped it on me. When I was not looking, the child did it again. I just laughed after that day and knew that this was where I wanted to be; caring for children at Child and Family Opportunities. – Clarice Colbeth, Assistant Infant/Toddler Caregiver 4/7/15

It Just Felt Safe

When I was 4 years old, my family and I embarked on an adventure from Oklahoma, where I had lived until that point, to Rhode Island, and then to Calais, Maine. Though I don’t remember many of my emotions or insights from that time, I remember feeling displaced and a bit apprehensive about the new environment.

I also remember going to the Calais Head Start program for a brief time before we moved again. I remember feeling like I was in a safe place where I could relax, with adults that cared about my well-being.

When I was 25, I moved back to Calais. I became a reporter and started writing stories about the people and organizations that make a positive difference here. I have written a few stories already on CFO’s Calais Headstart program, and I know I’ll be writing more.

Thank you for giving kids a place from which they can grow! – Lura Jackson 4/7/15

A Great Staff

I can not say enough about the staff at Washington County Community College in Calais where my two boys attend day care [St. Croix Early Care and Education Center]. They are truly amazing people! Both my boys are entirely different from each other and the staff goes above and beyond with individualized care for each of them.

I know I could go to school and work without this daycare but WCCC staff make it so much easier. I haven’t always been an easy parent to deal with and I can’t thank the staff enough for their patience with me and my kids. Thanks again Marcia, Mindy, Ali, Katie, Bekah, Nancy, Kim, Debbie, Serena, and all the amazing subs. -Tracy Berry, Parent, 4/23/2012

Cathy Falkingham in her classroom after receiving CFO's employee of the year award.

Cathy Falkingham in her classroom after receiving CFO’s employee of the year award.

A Dream Fulfilled

Twenty years ago I was a stay at home mom with two little ones and one on the way. My oldest son Dean was extremely shy and I was very worried about how he would do once enrolled in Kindergarten. I looked into the Moose-a-bec Head Start program in Jonesport where he soon became a student.

I strongly believe my son, who would hide behind my leg whenever we went anywhere, would not have accomplished the things he has in his life if he had not had that Head Start beginning which gave him support, encouragement, socialization, and acceptance.

The other part of my story is that my son’s shyness came from me. I was also very shy and I let this stop me from doing many things in my life. I wanted more for my son and that is why I enrolled him in the Head Start program, but never realized how personally I would also be affected by this decision.

My life was changed in such a wonderful way that I believe I am the person I am today because of the support I received and the encouragement to step out of the box and further my education and to someday become the teacher I wanted so badly to be.

I started out as a mom in the parent group, then I volunteered to help on field trips and before I knew it I was helping out in the classroom. I then started to sub and moved on to become a one-on-one aide. From there I applied for the Food Service Tech position which I did for many years.

After my youngest son entered his senior year in high school, I thought it was time to do what I had dreamed about for so long. With the help and encouragement of my husband and staff members I decided to apply for the Infant/Toddler caregiver position in Machias. It was the best decision I could have ever made. I love my job and look forward every morning to getting up and going to work (how many people can say that!). Head Start has helped me grow as a person and reach goals I never thought possible. Thank You! – Cathy Faulkingham, Lead Infant/Toddler Caregiver

Truly Appreciative

One thing stands out about my time at CFO and that was when I was diagnosed with cancer. I will never forget all the support I received from everyone while going through treatment. I have never worked with so many great individuals as I have in the last 7 years at CFO. I truly am appreciative of all the wonderful people I have met here. -Larry Norton

Thank Goodness for Head Start

I just want to say….as I relocated to the Machias area I felt so fortunate to find an agency that offered Head Start since I had worked for Head Start for the past 20 years. One day I was given a phone number for Marcia Rogers and we talked for 20 minutes about CFO and our Head Start experiences. Marcia directed me to call Ellsworth… Thank-you Marcia! -Diane Oyler

Judy enjoying all staff day.

Judy enjoying all staff day.

CFO: Simply The Best

It has been my pleasure to be working for an agency that really is concerned that children get the best CFO can give.  That includes the best care givers, the best administration, the best directing and the best resources CFO can give. – Judy Nevells

Liz Ehrlenbach - Web

Helping Empower Children and Families

The irony of my board membership is that friends enlisted me to speak with Action Opportunities’ Executive Director in the early 80’s to include a childcare component to their Head Start programs. We were successful.  I was the only one of the group of about eight who did not plan to take advantage of the new childcare as my own children were in home care situations.

Over the years the greatest impression being a board member has left on me is of the empowerment Head Start has given so many parents: on policy council, board of directors, local and regional conferences, and even our state legislature. Several have discovered their writing skills, others their ability to address an audience.

Most recently, my two grandchildren were/are enrolled in the Early Head Start Program in Ellsworth. The program has benefited both of them socially, and to some extent academically. I am always eager to hear the most recent ages and stages reports from their parents . – Elizabeth Ehrlenbach, Board Member since 1977


Making a Difference

On April 7th, 2011, representatives from Head Start programs throughout Maine visited the State Legislators in Augusta to share their stories about the positive difference Head Start programs make in the lives of families, and to learn about government and ways to participate in legislative process as citizens. Participants were recognized in the Senate and House of Representatives, and  had opportunities to meet with Legislators. The following speech is Maine State Representative Walter Kumiega’s address to the Head Start Goes to Augusta attendees.

“Good morning, glad you could come. I have a question for the group, but I have a quick story for you first. 14 years ago State Senator Marge Kilkelly spoke to a group of Head Start parents here in Augusta. Senator Kilkelly was a perfect choice to address the group since she is herself a former Head Start parent. The parents toured the building, attended the legislative session and some public hearings then went home and went on with their lives.

One parent went on to serve as Chair of Policy Council, and Liaison to the Board of Directors of what was at the time Action Opportunities. After leaving the Policy Council, he became a regular Board member and for a time Chair of that group. Then he got the bright idea to run for School Committee and lost.

A year later he discovered the benefits of running unopposed, and won a seat and then was reelected three times. Now he finds himself in Augusta talking to a group of Head Start parents. Which brings me back to my question. Which one of you will be up here 10-15 years from now returning the favor?

You don’t have to answer now, I can give you a few years to think about it. In the meantime, you have a great opportunity and I urge you to take advantage of it.  Head Start is a great program for kids and parents. You can learn things in this program that will change your life and help you change the lives of people around you. If you care enough about your community to take a day and come to Augusta, then you care enough to make a difference.

Every community has boards and subcommittees and advisory groups, and they need people. And there are groups out there that will help you learn leadership skills like Women Work and Community and Maine Development Foundation. Find your voice, and then use it!” – Walter Kumiega, Maine State Representative and CFO Board Member since 1997


A Great Place to Grow

Working for Head Start has taught me how to advocate first for my own children during their school years and, second, to share that knowledge with families. It is a great program and beginning for all children. Working into the school system has been a challenge but a rewarding one. It is a great place to grow. -Victoria Burtchell, Teacher/Family Advocate

Becky Libby in her classroom with her employee award.

Becky Libby in her classroom with her employee award.

We All Received So Much

I was a parent in the opening year of the Moose-a-bec center in 1984 in Jonesport. My son was very shy and did not want me to leave him there. I did not want him to be upset so I spent most of my time there too. Staying with him taught me about child development and I became a staff member in 1989.

Since then, I  have worked in many different jobs in the agency. Many of the people I have learned from have moved on: Judy Mason, Elaine Cale, Pearl, Julie Knoyes to name a few. I would like to say thank you for your support, friendship, and love through the years to all of the people that I still learn and respect today as teachers, friends, and with whom I still work today.

The one story that sticks in my mind is of my grandson a second generation Head Start child, who was very interested in his teacher Miss Bobbie having a baby. He had asked many questions throughout the nine months but the funniest question was “Miss Bobbie, why did you eat that baby anyway?”

Chad truly loved and received so much from Head Start. When I went by the old center the other day he made the comment, “I get sad that kids don’t go there anymore it was my first and best school”. -Rebecca Libby, Lead Infant/Toddler Caregiver


Feeling Honored

I started as a Head Start parent in 1982 in Bucksport and it totally changed my life! I discovered how much I loved being with children and watching them grow.data:text/mce-internal, I spent many hours at the center and loved my relationships with the family advocate and my children’s teachers (Cheryl Flanders was my son’s teacher).

By the time my second child finished Head Start I felt very validated and empowered as a parent. I also knew that I wanted to pursue a career in early childhood education. I had spent many hours as a volunteer and a substitute and was very excited when Action Opportunities hired me in 1988 as a preschool teacher.

I worked in Bucksport for eleven years and left the agency in 1999 to pursue a job with more pay. I worked at MBNA [a bank] for four years as a bill collector and became a high paid but totally unfulfilled bill collector.

I came back to the Child and Family Opportunities in 2003 and have no plans of leaving again. I feel honored to work with children and families and feel completely fulfilled with my profession.

-Karen Bowden, Assistant Teacher/Family Advocate

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