Joelyn Cruz began a journey 21/2 years ago that took her from being a Spanaway stay-at-home mom to a home child-care provider, which in turn led her to the White House.
Where Michelle Obama hugged her last month. Twice.
“Amazing!” Cruz said. “And all because the Pierce County Library really cares about children.”
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. And most of it has to do with Cruz, whose life was changed by the recession when her husband, Roland, lost a good job and had to go back to school.
“Like so many other people, we found ourselves in a position we never thought we’d be in,” she said. “We had two kids in school, the youngest wasn’t quite seven, the oldest was 17.”
While the Cruz family was looking into options, a longtime friend of Cruz arrived one morning at the day care center where she took her children to find it had gone out of business overnight.
This single mom with four kids called Cruz, and Cruz said she’d help.
At first, she took care of the kids at the single mom’s home, but that wasn’t practical. Cruz wanted to be home with her family, too, She attended an orientation on home child care.
“It scared the mess out of me,” she said. “I had no idea how to take care of someone else’s child – the dynamics, the social issues, the responsibility.”
Within six months, Cruz earned her Child Development Associate certificate, obtained a permanent child-care license and opened a home business, “Home on the Ranch,” named in memory of her grandmother’s ranch in Guam.
Then the hard work began.
“I realized how inadequate I was, and I didn’t want to be a baby sitter, I wanted to help these little guys,” Cruz said.
She jumped into the Early Achievers program, then the library’s Early Literacy program. Everything she learned, she passed along to the children in her care.
“We recently did an ant hunt on one of our walks,” said Cruz, now 42. “We talked about it first, and the kids had questions: What do they eat, where do they sleep, what do babies look like?’
“So we watched the ants take down bees and worms, watched what they did, and then came back home and looked at books about them.”
Cruz took courses from the library on finding age-appropriate books for children. She’s now working with five kids and her own daughter, Madison, who is nine. The other children range in age from 101/2 months to seven years.
Husband Roland, meanwhile, got a new job inspecting big equipment for the military. Like his wife, he has a child-care license and can step in if she’s ill.
With an average workday of 111/2 hours, Cruz had plenty to do. And then she added to it: She began a Saturday breakfast club where home day care providers meet monthly to share questions and solutions. Cruz often brings in guest speakers.
Susan Anderson-Newham, the library’s Early Literacy supervisor, has been among them.
“They inspire each other and ask questions about multicultural books, about math and science,” Anderson-Newham said. “I’ll go back, research what’s available and give them a list. It’s wonderful interaction.”
When the Pierce County Library System was awarded the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal this year – the first Washington library selected in the 19-year history of the award – it was asked to have a community member represent the library.
Anderson-Newham nominated Cruz, who was asked to do a video, “How the library changed my life,” which was uploaded on YouTube.
Cruz didn’t know anything about the award until she was told she’d be flying to Washington, D.C. She went with the library’s executive director, Neel Parikh.
“I walked into the East Wing, and there were pictures of the president with his family, with his wife, his dog – like you’d see in your own house,” Cruz said. “I walked down the hall where there are pictures of past presidents and their wives, rooms filled with American history.
“Then, there was a hush. I looked over and saw her walking fast into the room with a big smile,” Cruz said of the first lady. “I got to shake her hand, and she asked me how I was doing. I tried not to stutter. She hugged me.”
That was the photo op. Later, they were called up to receive their awards. Cruz got hers and was walking away when a voice called her back. It was the first lady.
“She called me by my first name –‘Jo! Jo!’– and held me a minute longer. She hugged me and said ‘Thank you for all you do for our children.’
“None of it was political. It was about people and what makes our country amazing. When it comes to our children, it’s not about Democrats or Republicans.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/larue