Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 3, Page 17
Summer 1993
Day care director offers stability to homeless children

     Jurmane, age 6, Natalia, age 4, and Gared, age 5, are busy painting
Humpty Dumpty faces on hard-boiled eggs in a colorful classroom. Like the
eggs, the children are a little bit fragile. They won't be taking their
projects and school papers home to hang on the refrigerators of suburbia.
     Jurmane, Natalia and Gared are homeless.
     Yet, if homeless children can be considered lucky, these three are.
Their loving parents have enrolled them in the Ministry of Caring's new
bright and cheerful child-care center on North Jackson Street in
Wilmington, Del., within easy walking distance of at least four shelters
for the homeless.
     At the center one recent morning, three 2-year-olds are crying, the
1-year-olds are streaming in from the playground, the babies are being held
and rocked in the nursery, lunch is being prepared in the kitchen, a
maintenance worker can't find his keys and a local fire fighter has arrived
a half hour early to give a talk to the children.
     At the center of it all-the calm in the eye of the storm-is alumna
Valerie Zingler Martin, Delaware '77.
     Petite, with a big grin and a hug for every child she meets, Martin
appears to possess the perfect blend of experience and talents for the
position of center director: years of administrative duties at Wilmington's
A.I. du Pont Institute, a children's hospital, and in the pediatric unit of
the Curative Workshop, an early intervention and rehabilitation program,
plus a passion for helping people.
     The $1.2 million center opened last year with space for 90 children,
ages 4 weeks through 4 years.
     Since that time, Martin says, she and staff members have seen
remarkable changes in the 60-some children who attend. Many of them, she
notes, are experiencing stability for the first time in their lives.
     "Children who came to us and couldn't talk are talking. We've seen
children learn to hold pencils. We've seen children who just couldn't calm
down settle into a routine and learn to take naps," Martin says.
     "Consistency is the key to so much in early childhood education, and
it's especially important for these children who have moved often and have
pretty disruptive lifestyles," she says. "They seem to thrive on knowing
that they can be here for 10 hours a day and see the same care-givers day
after day.
     Martin's ability to care for children and her instincts for mothering
came early in life. As the oldest of five children growing up in New
Jersey, she often helped care for her younger brothers and sisters.
     She held three part-time jobs in high school and put herself through
college with more of the same. At the University, she triple-majored-in
early childhood education, special education and psychology.
     After graduation, Martin was immediately employed by the A.I. du Pont
Institute as a child life therapist in its adolescent program. By the time
she left the institute 10 years later, she was coordinating all in-patient
     She can still remember the day she received a telephone call at the
institute that prompted her to hand in her resignation within half an hour.
The call was to tell her and her husband, Jeff Martin, that the baby they
had long been wanting to adopt would soon be available.
     Later, while working towards her master's degree in pastoral studies,
Martin heard about the Ministry of Caring's plans for a day-care center for
homeless children, and she dreamed about how she would organize it. Little
did she know that a few years later, she would be glancing at the want ads,
and purely by chance, see an ad for the director's position.
     "It just jumped out at me," she recalls, and she says she knew
immediately it was where she was supposed to be.
     "My faith is really key in my life, although it is a quiet faith. I
just ask God to let me do what He wants and try to have my work be my
prayer. I feel as if I've followed the path I was supposed to. Maybe it's
because my own family will never be large that I've decided to plant myself
in the middle of so many other children."
     Martin scoots out of her office to welcome the mother of one of the
center's children. The woman is holding her newborn, and Martin eagerly
scoops the infant up.
     "Holding a baby is like holding a piece of heaven," she says, with a
                                   -Beth Thomas