Ava's Story

Ava Santiago is a 4-year-old blast of joy and energy. She loves to sing, dance and is usually the first to welcome new students to her class.

But Ava has not always been such a gregarious child.

Most of Ava’s life was filed with instability and homelessness after her family was evicted from their home. After the eviction, Ava, along with her mother, Kristi Shaffer, and her two siblings, bounced from place to place. They stayed with friends, family members, at hotels and shelters.

Only two years old at the time, Ava sensed the uncertainty of her family’s future and became withdrawn. So her mother sought out help.

The Salvation Army of Lakeland & West Polk County’s HALO Child Enrichment Center provides a safe, structured learning environment for children thanks to funds from United Way of Central Florida.

Shaffer found a job, applied for the Salvation Army Family Living program and Ava started attending HALO classes.

Ava did not speak much and was not potty trained when she came to The Salvation Army. But the program gave her stability and Ava started to participate in class, socialize and, two years later, earn a high score on her Kindergarten screening.

With Kindergarten fast approaching, Ava is now ready and eager to start school thanks to the foundation that she built at HALO.