By Simone Colbert
Excellence Baby Academy (EBA) is my “Mommy Circle.” That is how I described it to my husband when I came home each week. At this early childhood and parenting education program, you get tons of support from the other mothers and the staff. I love that the children have their own time to interact and play while the parents have their space to create books and toys for their children as well as receive an education.
It’s a win for the baby and a win for the mom. You get a real fellowship with the other moms and you also get a breather from just being a mom and the isolation of being alone with your baby all day. The program gave me a real push to get out of the house and do something with my son. At least once a week, you know that you are stimulating yourself and your baby. You know your baby is safe and cared for, and you get some art therapy and creative time during toy making, a delicious lunch, and educational tools. Since the program ended, I have hung out with one mom and see the other moms around the neighborhood. It feels like I have a community now.
What I like best about EBA is all of the connections that I made. First, the staff is so warm and respectful and have really become like family. And then there are all of the other mothers. What is so great is that we all have something in common just from being women and mothers. It doesn’t matter what your background is, where you come from, or how much money you make. Everyone is going through the same stuff as a mother. It felt like we all have something valuable to share.
I loved seeing all of the babies grow. In a short amount of time, I got to see my son grow up and start interacting with the other babies. He was only 6 months when we started the program. He seemed so much more grown and was doing all these new things by the end. EBA felt like a test run for my baby before he starts childcare. It was great for him because it was his first time spending time away from me and being with other babies his age.
It helped him become more comfortable with other adults and children. I was really nervous at first about being separated from him but as soon as I saw how the staffs were with him I knew that he would be in good hands. I also liked that he was exposed to lots of different places when we went on the outings to the parks, libraries, museum, and farmers’ market.
And the food was really yummy. It felt good knowing that every time I came I did my body good and took care of myself because the food was fresh and healthy. Some other programs also provide free meals but it is stuff that is really unhealthy and that we would never want to eat. I always wanted to eat the food at EBA. It inspired me to cook that way at home more, and I’ve made a few of the recipes, like the snap pea and the lentil and radish salads.
Since I have lived in Bed-Stuy, I have been going to other neighborhoods, such as Park Slope, to get quality resources, which is crazy. EBA helped expose us to what is right here in our own communities. Going on the trips, we got to see all of the wonderful things that are available right here. EBA took us on a tour of a local farmers’ market and showed us where we could get fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare the recipes they made for us. They gave us Health Bucks to help buy the produce and explained how to get more Health Bucks when using an EBT card at the markets. This is very important information for families in our community where the rate of obesity and related health conditions is so high.
Oh my God, the resources at EBA are endless! The staff seems to be knowledgeable about or have a connection in every area that I could possibly think of or need help with. Even if I hadn’t been told about the program by a mother in my older son’s school, I think I would have found EBA because it was meant to be in my life. I have benefitted so much from all of the resources to which we were referred. I found out about the Brooklyn Breastfeeding Empowerment Zone which has been really helpful. I also found out about the Dancing through Pregnancy training. Because of EBA, I now have the opportunity to teach an exercise class to pregnant women.
Through EBA, I got involved in the HSB Community Action Network (CAN) which has been amazing. I have always been really interested in issues of health and well-being in our communities. It feels really good to be involved in something that is doing such important work for the community.
EBA helped me as an individual just by being able to socialize with other adults. Especially for mothers who are home with new babies, you are talking to the baby 90% of the day and you start to forget how to talk to adults and have adult conversations. You can also start to forget the things that interested and are important to you outside of being a parent. It is really important to prioritize that and have a space to verbalize what your interests are and what you like. You need to stay connected to yourself. It can be hard because as a mom you can feel really guilty about spending time away from your baby even when you know you need it. What is so good about the EBA groups is that you get a break, but it does not feel selfish because you are learning how to support your child. It grows your ability to be a better mom.
The program was a huge stress reliever, in part because we learned about so many resources. Moms might be stressing out for weeks or months about having to find a pediatrician or another resource or they have a question about something and they don’t know where to go. When we come together, we can get recommendations from the other moms and check in about the things that have been stressing us out. We started to feel protective of each other and wanted to help each other out. The groups also help normalize certain things, like breastfeeding, that can still make people uncomfortable. Most of us were breastfeeding so it was nice to have a space where it was not a big deal at all if I breastfed in the middle of group.
So often these conversations, such as importance of breastfeeding or the stress of being a parent, do not happen in the African-American community because we are so focused on food, shelter, and finding work that we don’t get to address these things. It is like people are so busy surviving that they don’t have the time or mental space for it. Having an arena, like the one EBA provides, to share this stuff is so important. It opens the door to conversations that might not be had otherwise. At EBA, these conversations don’t ever feel forced. It is a comfortable, open, safe space that is not threatening or intimidating at all. It is so important to feel this way when receiving information about parenting and other sensitive topics.
Even if your heart wants the best for your children, sometimes you really don’t have the mental space and you don’t know where to begin to get and do the things that you want for them. EBA improves your standard of living because it makes us aware of aspects of life that we should have or things we should not put up with. For example, making the touch and feel books in group was a way to get something that we may not otherwise have a chance to. A lot of moms may not have time to get to the library or have money to buy books, but this way you can still provide important literacy experiences for your child in your own creative way.
EBA needs to be extended. I am coming back. Nothing would keep me away.