Interview with Christina Yuhasz
Tell me about your role as a Parent Liaison for Newaygo County Great Start.
I have been involved with Great Start for 13 years - since it started! The purpose of Great Start is to assure a coordinated system of community resources and support to help all Michigan families provide a great start for their children from birth to age five. Great Start is a program overseen by NC RESA.
When I joined Great Start, it was not as an employee. I was a stay-at-home parent with two young children. I went to the first parent meeting and became very involved from that point forward. I liked the support it provided and the friends I made. As a child, I spent time in foster care and moved around a lot. Great Start helped empower me to be a great parent and I was able to mentor other parents to be the best they could be. I became a core parent on the Great Start Collaborative and enjoyed helping others. When there was a job opening for the parent liaison position 10 years ago, I applied for and got the job. I work with Karen Clark, the Great Start Collaborative Coordinator. Together, we have the longest tenure of any Great Start employees in the State of Michigan!
Who can be involved with Great Start?
Great Start is open to all parents with young children. We have one of the biggest coalitions in Michigan. We recruit at community events, on social media and through our community partners. Our group is always growing. On any given meeting we can have 100 people show up. I have a texting app for the parents coalition with 91 families on it. We want to connect parents to child development resources, teach them to advocate for their children, and empower them to be the best they can be.
Our Great Start meetings always start with dinner. I rely on our core parents to meet and mentor the new families. We typically have a set time to do crafts all together. After dinner and crafts, the kids go to childcare in rooms nearby and we meet with the parents. Relationships are key with our families. We also are intentional to focus on the needs of the kids. We want them to be happy there so they want to come back. The topics of the meetings are chosen by parents. Due to COVID-19, right now we’re talking a lot on the phone and have more time to get to know each other.
Working at Great Start was nice for me when my kids were younger, because I worked part-time. Now that my three kids are older, I work full time. Part of my time is spent working with Great Start and part of my time is spent working with the Family Information Service Hub (F.I.S.H.).
Tell me more about F.I.S.H.
F.I.S.H. started in 2017 as a pilot project with a grant from the Michigan Department of Education. NC RESA is our fiduciary and oversees this project. Today we are funded with a grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation. We like to say that we’re out “fishing” to connect with families. Through our experiences with Great Start, we found that there is a major need to connect services to families. If you are a family in need without transportation or the access to the internet, it is hard to know where to turn. In the beginning, we hired four Trusted Advisors, all of whom came from the Great Start Parent Coalition to assist families with this work.
Pre-COVID-19, we went to various locations and agencies to set up our hub of information. If we are set up outside, we set up under a canopy tent. We try to set up in places where people go who might need the most help. We also just started our F.I.S.H. Facebook page to connect families to helpful information.
How do you learn about the services available in Newaygo County?
We set up 30-minute time slots to learn more about services in our community with county agencies and nonprofit organizations. We ask numerous questions about their agency, including: What are the services you provide? How does a person qualify? How long does it take for someone to get back with applicants? We made personal connections with employees from all of these organizations and these relationships are helpful when we have families who have questions or special situations.
Our Trusted Advisors use binders to house all of the information that we have collected. We use binders because there are times when we meet with families in locations where there is no internet service. Trusted Advisors have received special training to better help them in their positions. We also are part of the Community Health Worker Navigation Group, about a dozen employees in Newaygo County with similar roles, where we meet to keep updated of ever changing information.
Today, we currently have myself and two other trusted advisors doing the work. We also all have had navigation training so we can help families with DHHS applications.
You can find more information at the links below.
F.I.S.H. Facebook Page:
Great Start Parent Coalition Facebook Page:
NC RESA website:
Christina feels blessed to have the parents we do involved with her programs. She reports that Newaygo County has a collaborative environment where people enjoy helping each other. Christina and her family look forward to spending time on the lake this summer.