A mother’s end-of-school success story

Lisa Barlow, Children First/CIS Success Coordinator at Emma (center), sits with Brandy Odum (top center) and four of her five children during a recent visit.
Lisa Barlow, Children First/CIS Success Coordinator at Emma (center), sits with Brandy Odum (top center) and four of her five children during a recent visit.

“I couldn’t pull any more good out of this school year,” Brandy Odum says with a laugh. “And it didn’t start out that way. It was rough at the beginning.”

Brandy is the single mother of five children, ages 15, 10, 8, 6 and 3. The beginning of the 2013-14 school year started with its share of challenges. Her 10 year-old son needed glasses, and she didn’t have the funds to buy them. And her 6 year-old was weeks behind in getting enrolled in kindergarten due to issues with his Medicaid and completing his physical.

“I was overwhelmed. And every day my son was not in kindergarten was a day that he was falling behind the other kids.”

When Lisa Barlow, Children First/ CIS Success Coordinator at Emma, found out from a teacher that Brandy’s son needed glasses, she went to visit Brandy at her home. Lisa also found out about the problems with surrounding Brandy’s kindergartner and his enrollment in school.

“When Lisa walked through my door, I was on the phone with the Medicaid people, and I just looked at her and said, ‘Please help,’” Brandy recalls. “I had been on the phone non-stop for days and no one could answer my questions.”

Lisa helped Brandy to navigate the system so she could advocate for her child, and within five days, Brandy’s son was enrolled in kindergarten. In the meantime, Lisa was able to secure funds through Children First/CIS emergency financial assistance to get Brandy’s older son the glasses he needed.

“The first two months of school were such a struggle for him because he couldn’t see,” Lisa recalls. “He was so happy when he got those glasses.”

Meanwhile, Brandy’s younger son was struggling with kindergarten, primarily with staying focused on his work. Because of regular conversations with Lisa, the two decided it was best to get her son medical attention.

“We don’t have a car, so Lisa took us to that first appointment.” Brandi remembers.  “She was right there with me in the doctor’s office, asking questions that I didn’t even know I needed to ask. She is my back-up — if I forget to ask something, she asks it, because she knows what I need to know.”

Since that first doctor’s visit, there have been great improvements with Brandy’s 6-year-old and his behavior. “Now he comes up to me and hugs me and says ‘I love you, Mommy,’” Brandy says. “He didn’t do that before.”

Being in the school, Lisa also noticed his improvements. “Now he is an academic achiever. Before, it was difficult for his teachers to see anything but the behavior challenges. Now they call him out for his successes.”

“Being new to Emma, we didn’t really know about everything that is available,” Brandy says, adding that now she utilizes resources she wasn’t aware existed. Brandy makes regular visits to the Family Resource Center at Emma, where Lisa also works as a coordinator. At the center, she is able to access a computer, telephone, clothing closet and bi-monthly food boxes.

“It’s just so heartwarming to come here where people are so friendly,” says Brandy. “When I come home and the kids are excited to see what’s in the box, it makes me feel good.”

“I am so proud of Brandy for being so open and willing to solve the challenges her children were facing,” says Lisa.

Brandy and Lisa frequently chat in their regular meeting spot — Brandy’s front yard. Switching from talk about reading plans, summer activities and doctor’s appointments, they share stories of challenges and success. From the outside, it looks just like two friends swapping stories, but there’s more than just a casual conversation going on. Together, they are forming future plans for success.

“Brandy has every skill to do this on her own,” Lisa says with a smile. “But when stressors are overwhelming, it’s hard for anyone. I am so proud of Brandy. She and her children are on the road to long-term success.”

Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County is a local nonprofit that provides programs to economically disadvantaged children & families. Children First’s mission is to empower children and their families to reach their full potential through advocacy, education and services. The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. For more information, visit www.childrenfirstcisbc.org.

Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. To find out more go to find out more, go to childrenfirstcisbc.org or call 786-2072.

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