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Meet Gisela Cardenas

Sometimes recognizing that a problem exists is the most important step one can take in resolving it. So says Gisela Cardenas, the mother of a daughter with special needs, who was directed to Family Central for support in 2008. At 18 months, Cardenas’ young daughter could neither crawl nor utter simple words like “mama” or “papa”. While Cardenas suspected something wasn’t quite right with her daughter, her husband absolutely refused to accept it, insisting instead that the child was merely a bit delayed. Their differing views took a heavy toll on their marriage and family until Gisela was referred to Family Central. According to Cardenas, it was a referral that changed their lives.
“I was dealing with the news of a sister far away in Italy dying from cancer and this child I knew had problems,” she said. “If it weren’t for Family Central, I would not have overcome everything that happened to me.”
The family was placed with Karime Bourzac, a Family Central nurturing coach, who helped them not only obtain the necessary therapy for their daughter, but provided emotional support as well.
“In the past, whenever anything happened in my life, I always blamed myself,” said Cardenas. “Karime helped me understand that sometimes things just happen in life and no one is to blame. She helped me realize that what was going on with my daughter was not my fault and that we could find help for her.”
Bourzac also helped the couple with one another – encouraging Cardenas to approach her husband differently about the topic and motivating him to listen without getting angry.  She says he eventually softened and supported her decision to seek help for their daughter.
The couple, who also have a young son, was placed on a waiting list to participate in Family Central’s 24-week Nurturing Parenting program.  They cleared the list in February and Bourzac now makes one two-hour in-home visit per week. During that time, the couple is offered parenting and nurturing techniques that Cardenas said have proved invaluable.
“We now go out at least once a week to do things together as a family,” Cardenas said.
Her husband, who often worked late hours that brought him home after the children were asleep, now arrives earlier to bathe and read to them before bed. Cardenas said these changes are all based on the advice and support received from Family Central.
“He was affectionate with them before, but he now hugs and kisses them much more,” she said. “The children are much more happy, more organized. We are much more united. We don’t think exactly the same way in everything, but we respect one another’s opinions.”
Cardenas’ daughter is making strides with therapy as well. She now has speech, physical and occupational therapy. She has issues with stability, but she walks. She has made progress with her speech as well, uttering sounds and making movements with her mouth that she was unable to achieve before. It is progress Cardenas treasures.
“Family Central helped me in all aspects of my life,” she said. “I don’t know where I would be today without their support.”

Meet Cynthia Colquhoun

When she arrived to the United States from Jamaica in 1987 with two young daughters, Cynthia Colquhoun found herself homeless and short on options. A friend offered the three a place to live and Cynthia seized the opportunity to make life better for her and her family. She enrolled in school and cleaned homes to make ends meet. Shortly after completing courses in education, she was hired in 1988 as a teacher at Skipper Chuck’s Child Care Center #2, the center she now manages. Cynthia eventually obtained an associate degree in Business Administration and, in addition to her work at the center, is now attending classes full-time at night to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Miami-Dade College.

Under Cynthia’s leadership, Skipper Chuck’s has participated in Family Central programs such as Quality Counts, a voluntary rating system that reviews early learning center activities according to clearly defined, high quality standards using a five star method of evaluation.  The center became a Quality Counts three-star and Gold Seal center in 2008, which places it among a small percentage of high-achieving childcare centers rated by the program.

Quality Counts also offers support and incentives to help providers reach their operational goals. With assistance from the program and Family Central, Cynthia and her teachers received a coveted Accredited Professional Preschool Learning Environment (A.P.P.L.E.) accreditation, an 18-month evaluative process that covers key areas of a center’s operations. Cynthia is currently pursuing a second A.P.P.L.E. accreditation for one of her sister centers.

Her commitment to excel not only motivates her to do more with her centers and in her own life, but in the lives of others as well. Cynthia encourages her teachers to attend professional development classes and supports them in their efforts. Years ago, when she witnessed a young girl arrive daily with poor hygiene and unhealthy breakfasts, she was deeply moved to act. She took foster parent classes and embarked on a journey that would eventually bring 15 children under her care until they were adopted or returned to their families.  She gives back to the community by reading to children at the local library, participating in neighborhood clean-ups and giving clothes to the homeless. On Sundays, one will always find her at church. Her work in the community is surpassed only by the time she devotes to her family.

Now a proud mother, grandmother and wife, Cynthia has six children and one grandson. She adopted three girls who range in age from 27 to a year.  Her son, a first grader, has participated in Family Central’s Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (H.I.P.P.Y.) program. Cynthia credits the program with his success in school – he has been on the principal’s Honor Roll since kindergarten. She regularly makes the time to take her son and grandson to Boy Scout meetings, soccer, football and other activities.

Cynthia’s life has evolved along a rich and winding road since her arrival more than twenty years ago as a young immigrant mother facing homelessness. Her long-term goal is to open a shelter for teenage mothers where she will, in essence, offer the same help so kindly given to her years ago.  She continues to move forward with energy, passion and an enviable set of goals yet to achieve.


Meet Sonia Ekblad

Sonia Ekblad works as a Teacher Assistant at Unity 4Kids Preschool of Hispanic Unity of Florida.

Since 2009, she has been part of the Hispanic Unity family as a substitute teacher. She also pitches in with the preschool office and works the front desk when needed.

For the past four years, Ekblad  has helped to plan and facilitate the daily learning activities for Unity 4Kids preschoolers. She has fulfilled all training required by Child Care Licensing. As a caring, dedicated, organized and enthusiastic professional, Ekblad is always willing to help make the progam a success. She uses strategies that motivate children and fellow teachers to maintain a positive atmosphere within the classroom.

Ekblad has established and currently maintains a professional and courteous relationship with parents of the program. She highly represents the values of Hispanic Unity by serving its families with compassion and dedication.

When asked what motivated her to do FCCPC, Ekblad answered:

"My motivation was my director, Yonela Carusi, who inspired me to continue my education and to do my Florida Child Care Professional Credential (FCCPC ). I also was inspired by the Positive Behavior Support (PBS) program coached by Cristina Miuccio. Not only did she inspire me, but she also inspired my colleagues and volunteers. She was persistent in reminding us on how to deal socially and emotionally with the children.  It was a blessing. Cristina gave us the tools we needed for the success of Unity 4Kids Preschool Program. Cristina motivated me. She was also inspirational in me applying for the TEACH scholarship, so I could take my course. I started my FCCPC also because I wanted to be a better teacher."

Cristina Miuccio of Family Central had this to say about working with Sonia Ekblad:

"When I was working as a Positive Behavior Coach at Unity 4 Kids, I had the opportunity to work close with all the staff and children. Ms. Sonia loves all the children under her care, and most of them call her “grandma” or “abuela” in Spanish. For most of the children, that is what she means to them. She expresses just how important it is for her to come to the school everyday and change a child's life just by seeing their faces or giving them hugs."

Through her training, Ekblad has learned the importance of implementing social and emotional skills in the classroom, and has seen the positive impact made on the children she teaches. She has eagerly adopted new strategies and ideas, which has strengthened her as an early education teacher.