STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

One family's story about life on the waiting list

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

There are a number of state and federal programs to help poor and at-risk children develop and thrive. But funding is tight, and the programs can only serve a select number of kids at a time. That means life on the waiting list for many low-income parents and their children.

Let's meet one of those families.

Amanda and Mike Hood live in a modest, cottage-sized house in Hillsdale, about 30 minutes north of the Ohio border. They have two dogs, two ducks, four fish, and two little blonde daughters - 2 year old Gracie and 5 year old Emma.

Emma was born with a very rare disease called Congenital Central Hyperventilation Syndrome (CCHS). She was just 4.5 lbs when she was born, and required round-the-clock care. Her mom, Amanda Hood, had to put her life on hold to take care of her daughter. She dropped out of community college and quit her job as a bartender, which meant her husband was the only one bringing home a paycheck.

Last year Mike Hood pulled in about $32,000 as a certified heating and cooling repair man.

Now, $32,000 for a family of four isn’t exactly destitute; they make about $8,000 over the federal poverty line. But funds are tight, what with medical bills, a mortgage, and a night nurse for Emma.  Not to mention all the money they have to pay for gas.

"We have to go to U of M, she’s got a neurologist, cardiologist, dentist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist... and so we are constantly driving to U of M. It’s an hour-forty five minutes just to get there and an hour-forty-five to get back," says Emma's mom, Amanda Hood.

Being able to pay for something like preschoolis a luxurythey cannot afford.

But because Emma has a disability and collects social security, she and her little sister qualify for Head Start, the federally-funded preschool program that’s free for at-risk kids.

Emma attends Head Start now and is headed to kindergarten in the fall. Gracie, age 2, qualifies for the free toddler program called Early Head Start, but there’s a waiting list:

"I was not told how many kids were in the class," says Hood. "I didn’t realize that there are only eight [kids] that they accept." 

Hood was told she'd get a call when Gracie's named was pulled from the waitlist, but no call came. Eventually Hood called up the agency and found out that Gracie did not get in. Hood says she was devastated, and she cried when she heard the news.

"It just annoys me that we want to do something with our lives and we want to better ourselves and we want to get ahead, but we don't have a way to." - Amanda Hood, mom

See, Amanda Hood had big plans for herself once her daughters were in school full time: she’d go back to college during the day, get a job and bring in some much needed money for her family. None of that is easy to do with a 2-year old at your hip.

"If Gracie would be able to go to Head Start, then I could have a lot of schooling done already," says Hood. "So as soon as Emma hits kindergarten, she’s there all day, I can start working and I can pay for Gracie to go preschool! That’s the problem, is we don’t have the funds to get Gracie to go anywhere and if we had them we could move on.

Hood wipes tears from her face as she continues. "It just annoys me that we want to do something with our lives and we want to better ourselves and we want to get ahead, but we don’t have a way to."

Still, Amanda Hood refuses to give up. She enrolled at Baker College to get her surgical technologist’s license. Twice a week Hood goes to class and puts Gracie in a $20/day daycare, which stretches their budget a lot.

Meantime, Amanda and Mike Hood continue to hope that Gracie will eventually get a spot in Early Head Start, and their life on the waiting list continues.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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