I spent an evening catching up with Janell Barron, a CUNY SPS CDA Alumni (‘2017).  Janell started the program in the late summer of 2016. We wanted Janell to share how the credit bearing CDA has shaped her career in the last five years. I remember the first day of class and Janell was an immediate leader of the group. She was also vulnerable and shared that she didn’t know if the CDA was the right path for her. This led to a great conversation that first day about career pathways and the power of embracing opportunities. My time with Janell this past week allowed us to reflect on opportunity, growth and embracing the word ‘yes”.  Thank you, Janell, for allowing me to be a part of your journey and allowing us to share your success with our early childhood community.

Claudine: How did you get involved with the CDA?

Janell: I was on my son’s Head Start Policy Council, and they sent me to be the area representative and I volunteer with ACS.  ACS wanted to empower parents and wanted to encourage parents to work in the ACS Head Start programs. They asked if I wanted to do the CDA and I said yes. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought if I didn’t like it, I could always change my mind.

Claudine: What is the one thing that you use consistently that you learned in your CDA program?

 Janell: What I have taken with me and guides my work now with both children and adults is meeting the child or adult where they are at and scaffolding to move them to the next level.  I loved learning how to allow children to thrive. The other skill, the skill to observe children is also something I will never forget learning. I use it every day. I hear my instructor all the time in the back of my mind talking about objective observation. It guided my work in the classroom and now working with families.

Claudine: What have you been up to since your graduation?

Janell: After graduation I started working Full Time as a teacher’s assistant at Sheltering Arms where I had done my CDA internship. I was there until November 2019. Working with Sheltering Arms really opened my world. The location I was working in is an underserved community, and many families did not have resources and it opened my eyes. I loved the students and the routines, but my heart was drawn to help the families. It was hard in my role to do everything I wanted to do. I had never experienced poverty like these families. There were families who did not have clothes, food, and living in overcrowded homes and so I started looking into becoming a family worker at Sheltering Arms. I could not just stay in the classroom. I wanted to do more with the families, especially our immigrant families. I started looking for other jobs that would support women and families. I wanted to help these women thrive.

It really affected me when I saw these women who had degrees in their home countries and now they were deemed unqualified here in the U.S., I needed a way to help them. I found a position at Urban Health Plan, a clinic in the Bronx. I became a Community Health worker. It allowed me to educate families and find resources for families. It was everything I wanted to do.

This job allowed me to dream even bigger. I started thinking about what it would look like if I started my own non-profit.

Claudine: Janell, when we first met you indicated you wanted to become a Doula and that you had felt the CDA might help you with that career path. Tell us about your career path and exploration becoming a Doula.

Janell: Becoming a Doula was a dream of mine for many years. The CDA ignited the confidence that I could complete the work. I took the opportunity of being home more often during COVID and participated in the coursework to become Doula. I am now a Certified Birth Doula, and currently studying to become a Certified Postpartum Doula. I also recently became a Certified Lactation Consultant, Childbirth Educator, and Herbalist (centering pregnancy and postpartum). It was a lot of work, but it is something I was passionate about and I really wanted.

Claudine: Talk to us about your work in the community.

Janell: Community events came about with this idea of creating a space for families. However, I learned quickly that I needed to shift expectations and not judge. When I started to go into homes to support families in my role I needed to provide required guidance such as telling parents “children need a safe space to sleep”. But what about the families who do not have funds for a crib. I feel it is unfair to be scripted or so prescribed. Some programs have grants that can share cribs, and car seats, but I try to look at this from the lens of how to relieve this stress both financially and culturally. Not everyone can access these programs and I want to decrease the stress of the judgement families feel.

Claudine: What’s next for you?

Janell: I envision and dream and hope that in the near future I can start a nonprofit to support the health and education for women, particularly from the start of womanhood. Being a Black woman, the information and conversations are not always available. Depending on where you go for care, you may not get holistic and culturally appropriate information. I want to encourage conversations that have been taboo in our communities. I want to dispel myths. I want to create a program in a space that makes people feel great and amazing. I want to get information that matters to women and get them resources  that  they need, including advocates for medical appointments. I hope to provide services for women as they enter puberty, conception, birth, motherhood, and postpartum.

Claudine: You are doing so much for others. How do you recharge or focus on you?

Janell: I am not without a community. I have my own “people” who wrap me in love and support, and they know what I need before I even know I need it. I recently had a diaper drive. I was nervous and anxious because I wanted it to be great. My family jumped in and supported me. Words of encouragement, water, a hug. I thrive supporting others. After the diaper drive I was tired and exhausted but thought “this could be bigger next time”.

I do focus on hydration and nourishment, I try to practice what I preach to my clients. I have learned to not feel guilty when I relax. This I had to learn. I never wanted to be judged for being lazy. Now I know to rest unapologetically. I spend time with my family and I have fun with my friends. I am a better person and advocate because I take care of myself too.

Claudine: Tell me about this upcoming Community Drive.

Janell: The next event is planned in collaboration with Savvy Doula NYC, Mutual Aid for Parents, and Black Girl Social Club NY Chapter. A Back-to-school drive.

Children have been out of school for over a year. It will be a financial and emotional burden in this preparation. This is one thing that I can do. Our goal is to provide 100 backpacks filled with back-to-school supplies including laundry detergent, and essential items.

We also will be planning a Uniform Swap. Families purchased uniforms and then never wore them due to COVID. Uniforms are expensive. To lessen the burden of the new school year, this swap can be helpful.  I really wanted to take just a little bit of stress from these parents.

Claudine: If anyone wanted to contribute to the backpack drive how can people contribute or participate?

Janell: On Amazon there is a gift list under the name Savvy Doula: https://www.amazon.com/registries/custom/1RJS2W3523P4T/guest-view

The event is on August 14th in Harlem. To volunteer, please reach out to Janell at her Instagram account. @thesavvydoula_

Claudine: Last thoughts?

Janell: I want my legacy to be all of my community work and hopefully my non-profit organization.  That is why I make small strides toward my bigger goal each day. I have learned to say “yes” and figure out the details later. I have learned to not let fear dictate my goals.

I didn’t know what the CDA program would bring but it honestly changed my life. I would not have accomplished all of this if I did not take the CDA, intern at Sheltering Arms and then take the position at Sheltering Arms.

The graduation ceremony for the CDA was so meaningful. I did not expect it to be so emotional and transformational. It gave me confidence and a reason to believe in myself again. My CDA is one of my most prized possessions, I am so proud of it.

I would have never found this fire without the CDA from CUNY SPS.

Janell now owns her own company, The Savvy Doula NYC, LLC. @thesavvydoula_

To learn more about the Credit-bearing CDA program at CUNY SPS and throughout NYS, contact us at careeradvisor@earlychildhoodny.org

Claudine Campanelli is the Institute’s Director of Career Development and Higher Education.