When Shevaun Harris gave birth to her first daughter, she remembers the excitement of bringing her new baby home from the hospital, assisted by her husband, family members, and friends eagerly willing to lend a hand.
But after the first week of what Harris now calls “a revolving door,” she was left home alone with a newborn and suffered from the same “new mom anxiety” almost every woman faces.
That’s part of the reason Harris, who became the Secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families two years ago, agreed to be the guest speaker at The Buggy’s Bunches annual dinner on April 17 at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.
“Our top priority is supporting strong and resilient families, with each member empowered to reach their full potential,” said Harris, who joined DCF after a nearly two-decade career at the Agency for Health Care Administration. “So, we think it’s crucial that as state agencies, we collaborate with faith and community partners, whether they’re public or private, to connect families in meeting their needs and providing resources, not only to help them in the here and now but also put them on a path where they can thrive independently long-term.”
Research shows that rapid brain development occurs between birth and three years of age. Harris said those early childhood experiences shape a child’s worldview and have lifelong physical, social, and emotional impacts.
“The Buggy Bunch and the programs they offer help support those early childhood experiences,” said Harris. “Sometimes, being a working mom, you feel like you’re in a constant juggling act, and the pressures we place on ourselves as women, to be everything to everyone, can make us feel overwhelmed and stressed. But the most important thing a child needs is love and ensuring they are in a safe, stable environment.”
Faith has played an essential role in Harris’ life. She attended Catholic School from grades K-12 and was raised by parents who ensured her faith was as integral to her life as her DNA.
“I’ve been a Christian my whole life,” said Harris. “I have not known a world outside of believing in Christ and wouldn’t want to. It has shaped who I am and helped guide me in my role as Secretary of DCF. Serving as Secretary of any agency comes with great joy and challenges whenever you’re in a leadership role, and having my faith serve as an anchor gets me through those moments. Certainly, when faced with difficult decisions, leaning in and trusting in the Lord to give me the wisdom to make the best decision has also been a guiding force.”
Tara Wright, executive director of The Buggy Bunch, said Shevaun Harris was suggested as the guest speaker for the annual dinner by First Lady Casey DeSantis and Governor Ron DeSantis. Casey DeSantis spearheads the Hope Florida Pathway to Prosperity program that utilizes ‘Hope Navigators’ to guide Floridians on an individualized path to prosperity, economic self-sufficiency, and hope.
The program focuses on community collaboration between the private sector, faith-based communities, nonprofits, and government entities to maximize resources and uncover opportunities for families.
“We are so blessed to have a Governor and First Lady in our state that cares so deeply about the population that we serve at the Department,” said Harris. “The First Lady has always had a vision for empowering and ensuring that vulnerable populations have the resources and services needed to thrive.”
The program supports individuals, many of whom are single moms, who need help figuring out where to turn. It helps get them out of whatever cycle is holding them and their family back from genuinely thriving and connects them with local resources in their community.
“Maybe they’re too overwhelmed and stressed to connect all those dots,” said Harris. “We know that Florida is rich with resources, but if you’re a single mom working a full-time job, or even working multiple jobs, it can be hard to find the time to call five different organizations or hear you are on a waiting list. There are not enough hours in the day to manage all of that, so the Hope Navigators connect the individual with those resources in the community.”
Since most The Buggy Bunch members are young mothers, does Harris have any advice?
“Just trust that you are doing the best you can and lean into the external supports that are there for you,” said Harris. “Don’t try to go at it alone; community is really important, so rely on your family and friends to help support you. Parenting comes with a whole set of worries and doubts, and you want to be the best you can be but remember, there is no playbook.”
To learn more or to support the Buggy Bunch, visit www.thebuggybunch.com.