Dahuana Grullon’s journey with Children’s Aid began in 2002 when she saw a flyer for an Early Childhood center in her neighborhood. At the time, she was living near P.S. 8 Luis Belliard in Upper Manhattan.
When she saw the flyer, she thought the program would be a perfect fit for her baby, Dreisly. “I figured that starting your education so early would be awesome,” Dahuana said. “If I could give her a head start, why wouldn’t I?”
The program ended up changing both of their lives. In the beginning, Dahuana wasn’t working, so she and Dreisly got to enjoy full days together at the school. Dahuana remembers going on field trips to museums, to zoos, and to Central Park. And she remembers special days at school, too, like pajama party days where she and her daughter would both arrive at school wearing their PJs.
More than anything, though, she remembers the feeling that Dreisly was learning and developing as she progressed from infancy to toddlerhood.
“I told every parent I met that my daughter was ahead in her education because of the Early Childhood program,” Dahuana said. “It really made a difference. She was so independent and so grown from such a young age.”
As Dahuana began working – at first, she was answering phones at a refrigeration company – she was able to leave Dreisly at the school by herself for half days and even full days. And when she found out she was pregnant with her second child, Dahuana decided she wanted a stable career to support her young family.
One day at the school, she saw a flyer for a dental assistant training program at Columbia. One of the Early Chilldhood educators asked Dahuana if she would be interested, and she said she was.
“It all happened so fast,” Dahuana said. “I applied right away, and they were accepting applications on a rolling basis. I called, they set up an interview, they accepted me, and then I started the program.”
She felt nervous at the start of the program because she was pregnant. She didn’t know if she’d be able to keep up with both demands, but she pressed forward. But she navigated both beautifully, giving birth to her son, Jian, and graduating from Columbia in 2004.
And when she graduated, she got a job right away – working with Children’s Aid. At the time, Children’s Aid and Columbia partnered together to pilot a mobile dental program for young people. When the partnership ended after three years, Dahuana remained with Columbia at one of their dental centers.
She worked with Columbia for the better part of two decades – and then came COVID. When her work with the college was disrupted, Dahuana heard about an opportunity with Children’s Aid’s.
“I interviewed for the job with someone who had worked at Children’s Aid for 30 years,” she said. “We remembered so many of the same people from when my children were involved in the programs.”
For the past two years, Dahuana has been working as a roving dental assistant at our community- and school-based clinics.
“The dental care we provide is so important, especially for parents who don’t have insurance or don’t know about the importance of dental hygiene,” she said. “And the kids don’t have to miss school to get the care that they need. You can help them right where they are.”
For Dahuana, the experience of working with Children’s Aid again has made her feel like her career and her parenthood journeys have come full circle. Her son is enrolled in college for business, and her daughter just graduated and is considering applying for teaching jobs with our Early Childhood division.
“I still see so many of my kids’ teachers,” she said. “We’re always talking about what it was like back in the day, and it’s so nice to be able to stay connected to this community for so long.”