Stories of Hope
Overcoming Adversity and Prospering
When Armineh Ghoghasian immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 2010 with her husband, Saro, and their four-year-old son, Tinio, the family was leaving behind hard times—a legacy of financial hardship, a lack of opportunity and difficult memories of eight years of war during the Iranian Revolution, including the devastating loss of relatives and friends.
While arriving in Southern California fulfilled a lifelong dream for her family, the transition was difficult. "I missed my family, we didn't have relatives here to help us and couldn't afford childcare," she recalls. "We spoke some English but needed to take [English as a Second Languages] classes. It took me months to find a job and three years for my husband to be hired by a printing company. It was a culture shock and it was hard … but it was still a dream come true."
Having held many jobs in Iran, the work she most enjoyed was as a dental assistant, but that required a better command of English. She would have to attend community college, pass the general education courses required, and then apply to a two-year dental hygienist program to be licensed in the U.S.
Armineh was working part time, attending night classes and spending time with her son, assisting with his English-language homework the best she could, when in 2013, daughter Tiena was born.
"When I got approved for the dental program at Pasadena City College … it was long hours and I didn't know if I could do it." A friend told her about the Head Start program and she turned to Pacific Clinics for help.
"They took care of my baby and her education, health and nutrition, even though I couldn't afford to pay … I had peace of mind that my daughter was in good hands in a safe and healthy place."
"Head Start did eye screenings and let me know that she needed glasses. She learned how to communicate, share and [learned] how to get along with others. She can write her name and simple words and do addition … they learned about recycling … So many different things that I didn't have time to teach her. But she learned it in Head Start."
Now as a registered dental hygienist, Armineh is able to support her family financially and attributes her success to those who supported her.
"Without help, I wouldn't be where I am now. I wouldn't have anything; it would have been impossible," says the mom whose daughter began kindergarten this year.
Creating a Head Start Legacy
Lissette Ayerdis-Hernandez was just 17 when she arrived in Southern California, fleeing her native country of Nicaragua with her mother and older brother to escape the civil war.
Lissette was motivated to succeed. She began taking English as a Second Language classes, earned her GED and then enrolled at Los Angeles Community College to take general education courses, though she was not certain of her career path.
To make ends meet, Lisette worked as a child caregiver while attending night classes. When her son, René Jr., turned 3, she enrolled him in the Head Start program, where he thrived.
"At a very early age," she recalls, "they helped him become interested in learning. The art instruction started him down a road that led to a career path," she says. "All three of my children attended the Head Start program and they're all very artistic."
Today, René attends Woodbury University studying game design/programming. His siblings, Albert, 19, and Kryztyna, 18, both attend Santa Monica Community College.
Lisette recalls that the teachers were supportive of her entire family. As a result, she began volunteering several hours a week. "When I saw my son excelling and learning so many things," says Lissette, "I developed a passion for teaching and realized that was the path I wanted to follow. I wanted to work with children."
"My son's teacher encouraged me and told me I had skills and was good with children. I don't think I would be where I am without her encouragement." Lissette began taking child development classes.
When she had enough credits, another of René's teachers encouraged her to apply as a substitute teacher for Head Start. Today, Lisette works as a home educator for Pacific Clinics and believes in the vision of Head Start. She attributes her success, along with having three children in college, to the program. Her goal is to continue to help other families so they too can succeed.