Photos by Nicholas Noell. Full gallery below.
A child is walking down a hallway, holding hands with an adult that they can actually trust who is leading them to the little boys restroom. Like any typical child of four or five years old, he blurts out what is on his mind and tells the teacher when he goes home today, he gets to also pee in a cup, so his Dad can pass his “test” and get a job.
Being homeless in a sprawling city such as Long Beach is not ever easy or even by choice for most. Imagine being a kid and being homeless—no school, no friends, no real chance to change the course of your young life. Precious Lamb preschool has become a beckon light of hope and change to the families they serve and especially the very small children they are educating.
Changing Homeless Children’s Lives
Precious Lamb is a faith-based preschool for children and families who are homeless or in a recovery program in the Long Beach area, where they provide an education, a hot meal and stability in the lives of these little humans—even if only for a few hours a day. Executive Director of Precious Lamb, Lailanie Jones, points out how the children at the preschool receive great nourishment each day, stating that their "kids get a very balanced meal, a hot meal and two snacks each day"—something they may not be receiving each night at home.
According to the City of Long Beach, there are an estimated 4,000 adults and children who are homeless every day in the city and 1/3 of those are women and children. Precious Lamb’s ultimate goal is to break the cycle of homelessness by educating the children in need and providing them with a regular school schedule, one thing these kids may have never had before.
After all, structure and stability for a child who either has been living on the streets with their parents or even shuttled around from foster family to family is very important to their life development. Jones gives plenty of praise to her teachers and the love they pour out to every student each day, saying “our teachers are the amazing ones who teach our kids structure, manners and give them the skills to be able to operate in the real world.”
One way the teachers are allowed to be so awesome and give each student so much attention is the 1 to 4 teacher-to-student ratio. Because they are a Christian school, Precious Lamb does not receive any federal funding, other than the food the children eat and thus, they can decide what is the best curriculum for the children and for the educators.
Most of these kids attending the school have never been in a preschool setting or any type of daycare to speak of. Homeless children at this young age have been found to have developmental delays and speech delays in early development, making their young lives even harder, and these are the types of cycles that Jones, her small staff of two and team of teachers are trying to break.
Even so, the moms of these kids usually do not possess the skills to be the parents these kids need them to be. This is why Precious Lamb, along with the many organizations they partner with, hold monthly mentor programs with community leaders and people who want to lend a helping hand to these women who may be struggling, but are fighting their way back into the world and trying to become the parents they and their children want them to become. The last monthly mentor breakfast even brought the moms out of the classroom and into the community to volunteer and give back, much like Precious Lamb has given back and changed the lives of these families.
This little preschool for families and children in need is making an impact and changing lives. They may not be able to eradicate all of the homeless issues that Long Beach has, however they are making a dent, and that has a ripple effect.
One study to look at when asking if organizations like Precious Lamb are having an impact in the Long Beach homeless community is the city’s biennial homeless count, last updated in 2013. The number of homeless children that were counted was at a high at over 2,000 children in 2003 and just last year in 2013 the numbers have fallen to 530 homeless children being counted.
When asked how Precious Lamb stands out from other organizations doing some of the same work with homeless families, Jones first ponders and then goes on about the impact of having a relationship with these families, saying “it is our posture and personality to be in relationship with these families, that is important to us and value to our staff, we’re not just the social service agency, passing people through.”
Moreover, if anyone had an ideal way of helping the homeless families of Long Beach in a productive way and educating their children who need a brighter future, it seems like the staff and board of directors of Precious Lamb are shaping blue prints that other organizations could model themselves after—having a personal relationship and building a caring community.
At the same time, many of the families that have come through Precious Lamb did not always reside previously in Long Beach, however according to Jones, over 90% of the families they are still in contact with after leaving the school end up staying in Long Beach, getting apartments, getting jobs and having their kids go to school. Even as Precious Lamb is making an impact on these families' lives, it seems like these families are also having a positive affect on their community in Long Beach.
Scott Reed, a retired sales rep is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Precious Lamb and talks about how the kids that come through the preschool have opened his eyes to so many of their needs and how giving back his time and talents has enriched his own life and is impacting the kids he sees every week. Reed goes on about breaking that homeless cycle one last time, saying “many of these kids come to us broken, having seen or experienced things that children, let alone adults should never have to experience. But, they are resilient, receptive and full of love and they do heal and they do grow and we do get them ready to face the world in public schools when they graduate.”
Living in the Future
Finally, one big long-term goal of the Precious Lamb Preschool is to own and operate their own building. Currently the school is housed in a partner church's old preschool, however just in the last year, the school has now grown into two full classrooms.
When you see the smiling faces of all the children attending Precious Lamb and you hear just a few of their stories, you can see and feel that change is happening in their lives and that there is hope that the cycle of being homeless will end with their generation. Precious Lamb has slowly become one organization in Long Beach that is establishing new ways in dealing with the homeless issues in the city and reinventing brighter paths for the children and families in their programs.
There are many ways to get involved with Precious Lamb Preschool; if you are interested, check out their website.