BATAVIA, Ohio (July 22, 2021) — LeAmber Kellerman, 30, comes from a blended family with eight children. For most of her life she has helped care for youngsters, including siblings, nieces and nephews. Indeed, after her stepmother gave birth to triplets 20 years ago, LeAmber often attended to their needs, even though she was only 10 at the time.
“Kids tend to gravitate to me,” she says. “I’m kind of the mother hen type of person.”
She seemed well-suited for a career working with children, so when LeAmber enrolled in college, she chose to pursue a degree in special education. But while attending University of Cincinnati Clermont College, she was diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy. Her grades plummeted and she dropped out.
In the years that followed, she married, struggled in a job that affected her mental well-being, quit the job, became homeless, and gave birth to a second child. Given her family’s unstable financial situation, LeAmber had only a faint hope of ever returning to school.
In 2017, seeking a Head Start program for her older daughter, EmaLynn, LeAmber connected with Child Focus, a United Way partner agency based in Clermont County. In time, LeAmber’s younger daughter, Lillian, also enrolled in the agency’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs.
A Head Start home visitor helped LeAmber and her husband apply for and find subsidized housing in Batavia. Another Child Focus worker told LeAmber about the agency’s Parent Employment and Education Program (PEEP), which is funded by United Way. The program’s job navigators work one-on-one with parents, guiding them as they work toward educational and employment goals.
“I knew I wanted to get back into school,” LeAmber says. But her academic record was marred by her previous failures. With help from a job navigator, she applied for and received approval for the University of Cincinnati’s Academic Fresh Start, which meant her old grades didn’t count against her.
In late April 2021, LeAmber graduated summa cum laude from UC Clermont with an associate degree in early childhood education. Her husband Andrew, who has not worked recently because of health issues, is on track to earn an associate degree in business next year.
At some point, LeAmber says, she may wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree. But with the aid of a job navigator, she crafted a winning resume and practiced interview skills. As a result, LeAmber was offered—and accepted—an assistant teacher position at Child Focus, the same organization that provided her family with quality assistance.
Her daughters are doing well. Lillian, 4, will be in Head Start one more year. EmaLynn, heading into third grade, is reading at a fifth-grade level. Meanwhile, LeAmber now can envision a brighter future. She looks forward to the day when she and her husband are working so they can move out of subsidized housing and buy a home.
She is grateful for the support of United Way and Child Focus, and the agency staff who have helped prepare her children for school; assisted her family in finding subsidized housing; and opened doors for her fresh start in college.
“They literally helped me navigate where I needed to go,” LeAmber says. “Without them, I probably would have been lost.”
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