The Nest at New Hope

Executive Director of The Nest at New Hope

Emily Pike

Emily Pike is a native of Southern Indiana.  She graduated from Mitchell High School, earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, and will receive a Master of Public Affairs with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs in December 2013.  

A veteran of the Peace Corps and a variety of socially motivated organizations, Emily has more than a decade of experience working in nonprofits.  Aside from the third sector, Emily’s other passion is children.  Having worked for many years in a number of childcare provision roles, she understands the importance of intentional programming for children beginning early in life.  She first joined the New Hope team in April of 2012 and was excited to transition to the role of Director of Children’s Programming in April 2013.

About the Children’s Program at New Hope
Just as heads of families enter New Hope facing any number of barriers to permanent stable housing, so too do their children face a wide range of challenges to their success.  These challenges are often compounded by a insufficient support from parents who must dedicate all of their energies simply to providing food and housing for their families.  The children’s program is designed to complement adult progress by providing individualized attention to each child, to assess any challenges to academic and social success, and to provide compensating services and activities as needed. 
In general, these services take three forms: academic support through tutoring and age-appropriate activities geared to stimulate curiosity and creativity; emotional support through individualized attention that allows children to experience and articulate their feelings in appropriate ways; and social support through fun outings designed to expose children to new activities and empower them to develop healthful habits to last a lifetime.  All of the services the Children’s Program provides center on a belief that the most important work of childhood is learning through play.  We work to relieve children of the grown-up anxieties they experience so they are free to be the kids they are.
Academic Support
Many children come to New Hope with significant academic difficulties resulting from homelessness and its cohorts, including emotional stress, physical illness, and lack of structure.  For these reasons children at New Hope Family Shelter are much likelier than their peers to face academic and social problems at school.  They are likely to have moved away from their school district, to have had friendships disrupted, to share their parents’ sense of crisis, leading to feelings of anxiety about their ability to succeed in school. 
Our tutoring program features individualized academic attention for each child at least twice weekly, and every child, regardless of age, benefits from these services.  For the very young, this may be as simple as playing matching games, reading picture books, or exposure to music.  For older children, our attentions center around the work they are doing in school with added encouragement to pursue any subject the children find particularly interesting.  All children are encouraged to participate in twice weekly trips to the Monroe County Public Library, where children’s program staff and volunteers help children to choose appropriate reading.
New Hope parents often feel uncomfortable in dealing with teachers and school staff on their own, and they frequently feel ill-equipped to be advocates for their children’s educational needs.   New Hope staff offer assistance in communicating with school administrators and teachers.  New Hope staff, interns, and volunteers encourage parents to participate actively in school activities and events, and offer to attend case conferences and meetings with parents as needed while preserving the areas of confidentiality the families need.  The Children’s Programming Director meets regularly with parents to discuss their children’s educational progress and to suggest ways in which parents can be supportive of their children’s continued success.
Emotional Support
Children often enter New Hope having been exposed to complex and sometimes very adult crises, and they find themselves unable to process the complicated situation their family is in.  These feelings of confusion and fear can manifest themselves in serious behavioral problems that are significant barriers to their success both academically and socially.  The problems are often compounded by parents who are ill-equipped to understand and address them and who have found that all their attention and time have been insufficient to address their children’s most basic requirements for shelter and food, leaving them discouraged and overwhelmed by higher level needs.
The Children’s Program staff and volunteers ensure that children have a chance to spend one-on-one time with an adult who is focused solely on them.  This is a time for children to participate in an activity of their choosing, in which the only objective is being heard and understood.  Adults focus on letting children express themselves in appropriate ways and helping them to think through solutions to problems they might be facing.  In addition to providing their time and attention to the children at New Hope, these adults offer a two-fold service to parents by allowing them a much needed break to have time for themselves and providing valuable modeling of simple ways to spend easy time with their children.
Social Support
The most important work of childhood is play.  Through playing individually and with other children, kids learn to work through the complex roles they fill in their families, at school, and in society.  At New Hope, staff and volunteers work to provide families a variety of play experiences.  All of our children’s activities are centered around allowing children to be children and encouraging a positive relationship to physical health through enjoyable physical activities.
Past activities have included excursions to Brown County State Park for horseback riding, to Spring Mill state park for hiking and spelunking, and to McCormack Creek State Park for a waterfall nature walk and nature center tour.  In the summer, we provide interested children with the opportunity to attend summer camp at the YMCA and take regular trips to the Bryan Park pool.  These activities are augmented by frequent walks to local parks and playgrounds, trips to the Monroe County Humane Society to play with animals, and visits to the WonderLab Museum.  All children who would like one are given a bicycle and helmet upon their arrival at New Hope, and some families enjoy them so much that rides along the B-line trail become an almost nightly ritual.

Lead Teacher at The Nest at New Hope

Kate Gehringer is the Lead Teacher at New Hope’s Early Childhood Development Center, which provides high-quality preschool services for the children of New Hope residents. Kate has long experience working with this age-group, for one simple reason, which she expresses with infectious enthusiasm: “I have found that I’m good at it -- and I love it!”

Before finding her way to New Hope in November 2015, Kate had worked in a wide range of different positions, including in the arts, agriculture, at a veterinary practice, tending bar and waiting tables, all in addition to working with preschool-age kids in various capacities for the past 12 years, most recently as an ABA therapist for children with autism. And she insists that “every one of these jobs informs the work I do here at New Hope.”

Of all of those experiences though, she speaks most fondly of her years at an early childhood education program similar to Head Start in Colorado, in a district that had a high percentage of “at-risk populations” and the “worst schools in Colorado.” The children and families she worked with were often living in poverty and dealing with other hardships and barriers such as speaking English as a second language or having a parent incarcerated, but according to Kate: “These are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. They have nothing, and they endure so much violence in their lives, but they are still so generous.” 

The single most important lesson she learned and has carried with her, she says, is that in working with low-income families and vulnerable populations “you have to abandon your middle class expectations and meet folks where they’re at.”

She gives this example to illustrate her point: “Everyone knows how important it is to read to your kids, right? And it’s so easy to give parents that advice and get frustrated that they’re not taking it. But it’s hard to read if you have no books. And it’s hard to get books if you’re living in a car. So I developed a book bag program. I would select a thematic set of books and put it in a take-home bag with a notebook and crayons, to allow the child to share the books with their families and respond with words or pictures.”

When she moved back to Indiana, Kate’s greatest desire was to find work “with people who really need my help.” At New Hope, she says “the children are the focal point – they are more important than profit or anything else. I can feel that I’m using my time and my talent to serve at-risk kids and parents who need and desire high quality early childhood education, but simply would not have access to it otherwise.”

This lack of access to early childhood intervention for some of the families who need it clearly rouses a strong sense of indignation in Kate:

“Take two children, one born in the Bronx and one in Manhattan. Those kids are each just as precious, but one gets advantages and opportunities that the other could never even dream of. Some children get ‘thrown away’ in our society, and that’s totally unfathomable and unacceptable to me. My work is a drop in a very deep bucket, but it matters, in a real and lasting sense, to each and every child we’re working with. What Emily and the New Hope Foundation is doing in supporting early childhood intervention is quite simply the only way to break the cycle of generational poverty.”

Kate clearly has an impressive command of the extensive research to support her assertion of the importance of early childhood intervention, citing numerous studies that establish a direct correlation between education. acquisition of self-control during the childhood years and emotional well-being, stable relationships and economic success in adulthood.

Yet, as she points out, “our families at New Hope are obviously go-go-go, just caught up in the day-to-day struggle to get the necessary things done to keep themselves going, so they are not always in a position to teach their kids these things, and the children can’t learn them by themselves.” She emphasizes that she considers it a big part of her job is to build a relationship of trust with kids’ families:

“We talk to the parents at the end of each day; we tell them about all the great things their kids have done that day. It’s important how you talk to the parents – you have to celebrate the positive behaviors, and work together with them to solve issues that arise together, in a way that includes the whole family.”

A critical element of the Center for Kate is its long-term commitment to the families:

“Even after a family gets back on their feet and moves on to permanent housing, their kids can continue to come here. If not, we’re putting them back out there on one leg. These parents are working, and so they still need childcare!”

Kate says that she and Emily have big plans for the Early Childhood Center. Moving into their new building opens up in May all kinds of possibilities to improve upon their routines and educational activities. Kate has big plans to recruit full staffing and to step up community outreach efforts. And she is determined for the Center to achieve its ambitious goal of achieving a four-star rating under “Paths to Quality,” Indiana’s Early Childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System, in the near future.

Kate’s passion for her work at New Hope and conviction that it is making a real difference is evident in the energy and enthusiasm she exudes when she talks about it. But the real reason she does what she does? “It’s selfish…This job is fun! I come here and feel like I’m in my second home, with my family. My days go by so fast!”