Four days a week for four hours a day, two-year-old Wilson and his mother were at BRIDGES at Lake Worth. His mother took English classes while Wilson went to the children’s room.
Wilson stood out.
“He was quite a challenge,” said Carmelle Marcelin-Chapman, director of BRIDGES at Lake Worth. “He was lacking emotional and social skills—screaming, fighting, biting. He could not get along with the other children. He would not speak and he would not answer. We knew we had our work cut out for us.”
When Wilson had one of his really bad days, he would go to the office where Carmelle and her staff work. There they would comfort Wilson, keeping him engaged. The weeks of working with Wilson became months. The months became years.
People now know Wilson for much different reasons.
“He’s one of my best students,” said Elizabeth Perez, a kindergarten teacher at South Grade Elementary School. “I heard a little bit of how Wilson used to be and I was shocked.”
Wilson, now 6, and his mother started coming to BRIDGES at Lake Worth when it opened in 2011. BRIDGES at Lake Worth is one of 10 BRIDGES sites in Palm Beach County that provide support for families with children up to 8 years old. BRIDGES offer parent workshops and free family events, while helping connect families to services they may need like child care, housing and medical care.
For more than four years, BRIDGES has been a second home for Wilson and his mother, Martina. The BRIDGES staff has not only witnessed Wilson’s transformation, but they’ve seen Martina flourish too.
When Martina first visited BRIDGES at Lake Worth, she didn’t have a job and didn’t speak any English. She would walk there with Wilson in a stroller.
Martina participated in almost every workshop and family activity available at BRIDGES at Lake Worth. She completed the Triple P parenting program and a family literacy program offered there.
She now has a job at a plant nursery and her own car. While she can’t attend the family activities with Wilson during the days, they are still regulars at night events.
“(BRIDGES) is like family,” Martina said. “Any time I need them, they are right there.”
Carmelle vividly remembers the early days with Wilson. He was often out of control. He didn’t respond to directions in either English or Spanish. He was very aggressive with other children. Sometimes Martina would have to leave class to calm him down. Staff wondered if Wilson had developmental delays.
Day in, day out, BRIDGES staff worked with Wilson. The improvements were gradual. Soon he wasn’t being brought back to the office as much. Then he was speaking Spanish and responding to directions in English. It was one small step at a time.
And all that led to where Wilson is today — a polite kindergartener who greets people with a handshake. His favorite movie is Turbo, the story of a snail who surprises everyone when he gets super speed.
Wilson enjoys writing and reading non-fiction books, said Ms. Perez, his teacher. He’s in a dual-language class and reading at grade level in both English and Spanish.
“He’s always enthusiastic, always helpful,” Ms. Perez said. “He’s blossomed into a great student and he’s very prepared for first grade. He gets information very quickly.”
Wilson loves to learn, his mother said.
“One day he was sick and he said, ‘Give me medicine. I want to go to school,’” Martina said.
BRIDGES staffers can’t help but smile when they talk about Wilson. Their nurturing has helped him blossom.
Every year, hundreds of children walk through the doors at the 10 BRIDGES sites across Palm Beach County. And at each site, there are staff members eager to help those children reach their full potential.
Carmelle said she is amazed at who the tantrum-prone toddler has become and eager to see who he will be.
“We were having an activity a few weeks ago and all of a sudden a child comes running up into my arms. I said, ‘Who is this?’”
“He said, ‘I’m Wilson.’”