HOPEWELL, Va. -- Some tiny graduates turned their tassel Thursday morning in Hopewell.
Several students, all about four to five years old, celebrated completing the Hopewell/Prince George "Healthy Families" program, donning a cap and gown, and walking to Pomp and Circumstance alongside their families.
The program is designed to help families in the Hopewell, Prince George, and Petersburg areas get any kind of resources they may need at no cost, whether it be baby formula, food, or access to things like doctors or employment opportunities.
Right now, the program is helping 45 families in the area.
“They’re not there to judge you, they’re not there to criticize you. They’re truly there to support you in any type of way, whether it’s just anybody to talk to, whether you’re pregnant, whether you’re getting ready to have your baby," said Constance Gray, who's been involved with the program for about five years. She celebrated with her twins, Braxton and Brice.
When Gray had her twins at VCU, a doctor there connected her with the program. She said volunteers helped her navigate the new world of having twins, giving her the support she needed when dealing with postpartum depression.
“My twins were premature, they helped me make signs that said, ‘Hey don’t touch me, we’re preemies.' Kind of what to expect with their group, because that’s new. I had full-term babies, so having preemies was different," Gray said.
Thursday's graduation was the first time graduates were able to celebrate in person, with COVID-19 putting a halt on graduations the previous two years.
One of this year's graduates is four-year-old Malachi, who's been in the program since birth. His grandmother, Ursula McCray, said the program changed his life.
"He’s come a long way. Malachi had hearing loss, so he came from not talking at all, to be able to spell his name and talk to you like this," McCray said.
Healthy Families connected her family with doctors, providing speech therapy resources the family otherwise would not have had, working alongside him to help him find his voice. His success makes his grandmother proud.
“It’s been a great deal in working with his speech," she said. "Not knowing how speech works with the equilibrium and the different stuff, and the exercises they had us do. He's here."