Vaya Health representative attends 2024 Strolling Thunder Day of Action in Washington, D.C.

In April, a member of Vaya’s Alexander County Child Collaborative, Hayleigh Marshall, had the honor of traveling to Washington, D.C., to participate in the 2024 Strolling Thunder Day of Action. There, she and other participants advocated for policies supporting families and caregivers throughout the United States. 

Hayleigh’s journey is deeply rooted in her passion for mental health and advocacy, specifically the System of Care model. System of Care (SOC) is a model recognized for its approach to supporting young children and youth with complex needs — working closely with families and communities to ensure that children have the resources they need to thrive.

Read about Hayleigh’s experience at the 2024 Strolling Thunder Day of Action, and the SOC programs impacting communities across North Carolina. 

Q: Tell us a little about yourself

A: I am a 20-year-old mother who has just completed my bachelor’s degree, starting a master’s in August, and celebrating my son Callum’s first birthday in July! 

I have a passion for advocacy and mental health and have always been interested in fields relating to those topics. I was brought up in the Early Childhood field due to my mother working for Early Head Start since I was young and have found a lot of crossovers between her career interests and mine. My partner and I have been together for four years, navigating school and careers together. Parenthood was not our intention, but we embraced it fully when we found out about our little guy. 

Motherhood led me to be involved in a lot of community work surrounding mental health, as both a parent and youth representative. I’ve always loved the Early Head Start (EHS) program in AlexanderCounty, so I immediately enrolled there and used them as a huge support through my pregnancy (for both me and my partner). I found out about Strolling Thunder through the chair of my community collaborative, Paula Cline. My passion for advocacy drove my application. Then I received an acceptance email, and we went from there. 

Q: What are some of the areas or programs that you like to see implemented or offered in communities across North Carolina?

A: I think that Circle of Security and Positive Discipline classes are crucial for parents and early childhood educators. They focus on benefiting both the child and the adult, practicing emotional regulation, and implementing age-appropriate explanations and resolutions to problems that may come up. 

Q: Why did you list “Early Head Start” programs as a priority for you and your son?

A: I have been raised watching the “behind the scenes” of Early Head Start programs due to my mother’s involvement my whole life. I volunteered for the classroom and was permitted to shadow an in-home educator (with limits due to confidentiality) for a development course early in college. I have been surrounded by families that have used this program as a support my entire life, and I’ve seen how hard the employees work to be the best educators and supports they can be for families. I truly believe that this program is the blueprint for helping both parents and children with their day-to-day struggles and building a stronger, more resilient community. 

Q: What was one of your favorite/most memorable moments from your time in D.C.?

A: Overall, seeing my son Callum react to city life was my biggest joy from the trip. We are from an area that isn’t as busy and very full of farmland. I pride myself on being able to give him experiences and include him in important moments. I loved watching him being so excited at everything we did and trying to interact with all the other families. However, my favorite moment had nothing to do with travel at all. Due to work, my partner couldn’t attend with us. One night we were there, he FaceTimed us, and Callum decided to crawl to him for the first time. It was a huge milestone moment, and he hasn’t stopped moving since!

Q: As a mom and an advocate, how would encourage others to get involved?

A: I would encourage joining groups around your community and building connections! Connection is the cornerstone to communication! Also, do your research on what you’re advocating for! It feels a lot easier to advocate for something when you have facts to back it up, but ultimately don’t be afraid to share YOUR story! There are so many groups and resources that most people aren’t even aware exist in different communities, find what works for you! Spread awareness, spread your message, if you reach just ONE person then you’ve already made a difference!

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