If you say hello to five-year-old Stephiny Zelaya of Fairfax, she will not respond.
If you smile and try again, she will not respond.
But if you try a third time, she will smile back at you and say, "Good afternoon."
Not so long ago, Stephiny's silence would have been total. According to her mother, Roxana Serrano, Stephiny never spoke at all. She might string together a few words once in a while, her mother recalled, but they were a hodgepodge-- and not intelligible to anyone else.
"We didn't know what to do," Roxana said.
But the staff at Seven Corners Children's Center in Falls Church did. United Way NCA is a supporter of the Center, and has been for a long time.
The 68 Seven Corners students hail from 30 countries. Although many were born in the United States, most of their parents were not. Many parents struggle to find and keep jobs. Many mothers do not have husbands. And many parents have little experience with a modern society like ours.
Specialists worked with Stephiny for more than two years to bolster her confidence and language skills. In the fall of 2010, she began kindergarten in the Fairfax County Public Schools. By all accounts, she is doing very well.
Stephiny has friends. She routinely gets perfect scores on spelling and writing tests. Best of all, she speaks--intelligibly and often.
She has as bright a future as any other child.
"We realize every child is different," said Ward, who has been the director of the Seven Corners center for more than 20 years. "But when she wasn't saying anything at all...That worried us. I worried that the schools would type her as a child with retardation, when I was pretty sure that wasn't the situation."
An initial evaluator said that there was nothing wrong with Stephiny. She was just shy. She'd catch up with the other kids in time.
"No one was advocating for her," said Mary Ellen Ward. "She needed special help. And we were able to get it for her."
United Way donations helped make this little piece of progress possible. United Way helps put children on the path to success in education.