IntroductionMirroring the history of the Head Start program itself, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) was formed quickly and on a tremendous scale. Like the federal program, the association rapidly became a national success, uniting the members of the Head Start community into a strong voice of Head Start advocacy.
The IdeaThe idea for a Head Start association was born in 1973 in Kansas City, Missouri, at a national conference for directors of community action agencies. A handful of Head Start program directors attending the conference discussed the need for a private, national association that could advocate specifically for the Head Start community in Congress. They were concerned by the Nixon administration's threat to eliminate community action agencies, which sponsored the majority of Head Start programs.
Head Start Directors UniteDuring the remainder of 1973, the core group of directors from Kansas City met several times with other Head Start directors from across the country. Pooling their broad resources, they formed the National Directors Association-the forerunner of NHSA. In addition to protecting Head Start's funding, the association aimed to strengthen the quality of Head Start. All Head Start directors were urged to join the National Directors Association and to attend its first annual meeting from May 31 to June 3, 1974, in Chicago, Illinois.
Head Start Parents Expand the MissionThe meeting in Chicago was a striking success. Drawing strength from their collective experiences, the directors organized advocacy efforts and planned for ways to increase the scope of the association. Most significantly, they passed a resolution to invite Head Start parents to form an affiliate association. At the request of the National Directors Association, Head Start parent delegates from each state met in Washington, D.C., in September 1974 to begin forming the parent affiliate of the Head Start association, called the Head Start Parents Association. The delegates met again in January 1975 in Los Angeles, California, to draft their bylaws and elect temporary officers to serve until the second annual meeting, which was held in Kansas City, Missouri, in May 1975.
All Staff Members Invited to JoinAt the January 1975 organizational meeting in Los Angeles, the parents passed a motion to invite Head Start non-director staff members to the second annual conference. It was their feeling that all Head Start staff members were critical to the association's long-term success. Non-director staff members formed the third affiliate association, the Head Start Staff Association. By the time the second annual meeting was held in Kansas City, the three associations as a group were named the National Head Start Association.
Friends of Head Start Join the EffortAt the second annual conference, a number of the attendees did not fit into any of the three affiliate associations already organized. These "friends" of Head Start organized themselves into the final affiliate association of National Head Start Association, presenting their bylaws and charter at the second annual conference.
The Associations MergeThe members of the NHSA's four affiliate associations voted to merge into one association on June 7, 1990. In the new structure, Head Start directors, parents, staff members, and friends were all members of one association, distinguished only by a different class designation. Although this essentially reflected the way NHSA had been organized before the merger, the new structure simplified the association's structure, unified its members, and helped clarify its mission of bringing together all members of the Head Start community.
An Evolving MissionOver the past 25 years, NHSA's mission has changed from simply defending Head Start in Congress to actively expanding and improving the program. Membership types have been created for Head Start agencies, Head Start state and regional associations, and both commercial and nonprofit organizations. NHSA has an impressive portfolio of services and programs that support and advocate for Head Start.