When seeking childcare options, Tamonie Benjamin like any mother, simply wanted the best education she could get for her children. “I didn’t want to put them in a place where they were going to watch television all day,” said Tamonie. “They deserve better than that.”
For more than
five years, the Oakland native and mother of four has been an integral part of The
Unity Council’s Head Start program at Foothill Square. Tamonie first became
aware of the program through her parents when her younger sister attended many
years prior. Her parents worked long hours and found Head Start as
life-changing not only because of their full-time availability
but also getting their daughter school ready.
On her son’s first day, Tamonie was in awe of the joyful and welcoming setting: the children’s artwork beautifully cascaded throughout the room books and toys were abundant throughout the play area, and the teachers wore friendly smiles as they welcomed him into the classroom. It instantly gave her piece of mind that her son was in great hands and she could go to work worry-free.
A natural-born leader and a vocal advocate for her children, Tamonie was encouraged by the Foothill Square Site Director Bobbie Carpenter to join the Policy Council. The Policy Council for Head Start is a parent-led governing body that approves budgets, makes hiring decisions, and raises concerns and recommendations to The Unity Council’s CEO and Board of Directors. Ms. Carpenter, known affectionately as Ms. Bobbie by parents and children alike, thought Tamonie would make a great parent representative of Foothill Square. After attending her first meeting, she left empowered to not only advocate for her son’s classmates but their parents as well.
Getting involved with Head Start struck a chord for her: Tamonie had been a teen parent of her first child, nearly ten years before the birth of her two sons. Tamonie understood the significance of a support system for parents who felt alone. “If you have your mindset and someone by your side, all things are possible. And I want to be that person for everyone who needs it,” Tamonie made it a mission to get to know the parents at Foothill Square and determine their needs.
In 2018, Tamonie became both the Foothill Square Parent Committee President and the Vice-President of the Policy Council. Tamonie plays a critical role in the decision-making process, attending job interviews within Head Start and regularly meeting with staff and the Director of Children and Family Services, Luis Arenas. Getting involved in her local Policy Council has opened other doors, and she now represents The Unity Council for the City of Oakland’s Head Start Board and is an Oakland Promise Ambassador through the Brilliant Baby program. In addition, Tamonie has attended and spoke at the annual National Head Start Conferences on behalf of The Unity Council.
“It’s been amazing to see her encourage parents, family, and staff to bring leadership to the Policy Council and parent committee, said Luis Arenas, Director of Children and Family Services. “Tamonie has been influential in getting them more involved in the day to day of their children’s lives.”
Parent advocacy has become her passion and expertise, and now a career. Tamonie is currently a Childcare Provider and Parent Leader for A Better Way, a local nonprofit that promotes social, emotional, and economic well-being for children and families. She co-facilitates a multi-ethnic parent support circle twice a month, offering a safe space for parents to discuss parenting challenges and ways to practice self-care.
Tamonie is grateful to The Unity Council for the opportunities given to her within the last five years, including hope when she most needed it.
“Head Start has become a family to me,” said Tamonie “They showed me the way to get started, and it has changed my life forever.”