Have a Heart for Children
Earnestine Woods, a Montgomery Public Schools security officer, is known around the River Region for having a big heart. So big, in fact, that she started her very own charity organization 13 years ago when a young girl with special needs touched her heart.
The organization, Have a Heart 4 Children, has been thriving since then in their mission “to provide social and educational programs to enhance the welfare of special needs children by providing resources and activities including after school programs, holiday programs, educational programs and field trips, workshops, summer programs, athletic programs, mentoring programs and youth development programs.”
Woods told RSVP it all started during Hayneville Middle School’s field trip to the Montgomery Mall. Woods was working as a mall security officer at the time, and it was here that she met Tamika, a special needs child full of love. Tamika touched her heart, and Woods began to bring her and her six classmates special gifts and supplies. Before long, other classrooms and teachers began writing letters to Woods telling her about their classrooms, the children and the types of disabilities they had.
Woods said just seeing Tamika’s disposition and realizing how many other special needs children needed support and love encouraged her to start an organization that would provide positive outlets and resources as well as respite for parents and caregivers of special needs children.
She recruited local business owners Alberta Jackson and Michael Williams to assist her in doing more for the special needs children in Montgomery because she felt that the need was so big she couldn’t continue to do it by herself. Woods, a single mother and winner of the Montgomery-Tuskegee Times Humanitarian Award, said the love and support of her family has enabled her to accomplish more than she ever imagined.
Each year, Woods, Jackson and Williams, along with many volunteers and sponsors, host the Have a Heart for Special Needs Children Christmas Event. At this event, the children enjoy a specially-prepared dinner and are given toys and clothing. Woods said the Have a Heart for Special Needs Children Christmas Event would not be possible each year without the generous donations and support from the community.
In addition to the annual Christmas event, Have a Heart 4 Children hosts and attends many other events throughout the year, including toy drives, the Turkey Day Classic Parade, the Back-to-School Supply Giveaway, the Jamaican Villages School Supply Drop and much more.
With the Jamaican Villages School Supply Drop, Woods and her Board of Directors have expanded their outreach to children in need. Woods first encountered the children of Montego Bay during a birthday trip with family and friends to Jamaica where she had the chance to interact with several of the children and visit their schools. What she saw encouraged her to try to provide educational supplies to enhance their learning.
Last year, they provided school supplies to more than 500 students, and next year, they hope to provide even more, with a special promise to provide 60 kindergarten sleeping mats for the children’s naps.
Recently, thanks to an anonymous donor, Woods was given a building to house events, activities, educational field trips and more for the children of the River Region area. Woods hopes to be able to have a sensory room, arts and crafts room, science room and other various educational rooms for field trips.
“My goals have broadened since I acquired this building—I have everlasting goals now,” Woods said. “This local business man has given me a great gift; the seed has been planted, and it has to grow now. We need to nurture it and figure out how to make it grow, make it strong and make it successful so that I can offer not only special needs children, but all children in the Montgomery area a safe place equipped with special programs that they aren’t given the opportunity to have.”
Another way Have a Heart 4 Children provides support to the River Region’s special needs children is through respite services. The respite program provides relief services to the parents and caregivers of special needs children.
Through this program, the parent or caregiver can call the Have a Heart 4 Children office and ask for a respite service, in which Woods and her two daughters, Satidra and ZaCoya, will come to the home of the special needs child and allow for the parent/caregiver to go to doctor or dentist appointments, attend church, go on date nights, attend meetings, take a short-term vacation or even go shopping. Woods is currently working on building a larger team of volunteers to provide respite services to the River Region area.
Woods says her mission to help these children is fulfilling because Have a Heart 4 Children makes such a big impact on their lives. “By providing services and events for local special needs children, we level the playing field to make them feel appreciated and valued. Our goal is to be able to impact even just one child’s life and to provide access to activities that able-bodied children would participate in. We are committed to continue acting as a ‘vessel’ to cultivate resources, assist existing centers and programs and advocate for these children.”
Have a Heart 4 Children is always looking for volunteers, as the organization is run entirely on a volunteer basis. Volunteers should have passion and a desire to work with children. Donations to the organization are also greatly appreciated. If you are interested in donating to the organization or volunteering, contact Earnestine Woods at (334)561-6363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.