Woman goes from homeless to hopeful with Head Start program through Butler County Educational Service Center

T’Myra Sweeten serves as an assistant Head Start teacher. Contributed photo/Adam Marcum
T’Myra Sweeten serves as an assistant Head Start teacher. Contributed photo/Adam Marcum

2016 was a tough year for T’Myra Sweeten, a single mother with a daughter in junior high and an almost 3-year-old son. After 7 years in a job she loved, she was let go when the company restructured under new ownership. Sweeten had been teaching others - something she was passionate about - and this was close to her. She moved in with her mother and found part-time work to keep going, but the house they lived in was sold and she and her children were left with nowhere to go.

For the next six months, Sweeten and her children lived in her car. They used gas station bathrooms and baby wipes to wash up. They bought food that didn’t need to be cooked to eat. The summer heat was unbearable, and on cold winter nights she had to start the car every 45 minutes to keep her family warm. Throughout it all, she never lost hope that there was something more for them.

One day while driving, Sweeten noticed a sign that read “Butler County Educational Service Center, Enrolling Now for Head Start.’' She made the call right away. With a safe place for her young son to go, she would be able to work more to support her family. King started at Head Start in Fairfield that September.

Sweeten would sometimes see staff members while getting her son ready each morning in the parking lot, where they would often sleep because it was safer. They would ask her if there was anything she needed help with, or if things were OK. Embarrassed and worried about the consequences, she would tell staff he got dirty eating breakfast.

One day, King told his teachers that they were living in their car. When Sweeten told a Head Start family service worker that it was true, staff invited her inside to enjoy a warm breakfast with her son. Realizing that hot food was something she hadn’t experienced in months, she was invited back for lunch later that day.

Staff immediately began searching for a shelter that would welcome Sweeten’s family, and within two weeks had connected her with Family Promise. While working as many as three jobs, she began substitute teaching for Head Start. She loved working with kids and could finally realize her dream of becoming a teacher.

After four months, Sweeten was offered a permanent position as an assistant teacher where she has since earned her Child Development Associate Credential and plans to pursue her degree in early childhood education. Recently, she was preapproved to purchase her own home.

King is now a first grader, and Sweeten credits Head Start as the catalyst for both his educational success and a brighter future for her entire family.

You can sign up for Head Start/Early Head Start in Butler and Preble counties by calling (513) 785-6850 or MVCDC (937) 226-5664 in Montgomery and Clark counties.