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Beating the Odds

I’d like to echo comments from the previous bloggers…kudos to NHSA for starting this blog and thanks to all who work and/or have been associated with the Head Start program and the many lives they have touched.  Recently, I had the opportunity to testify before the Senate to discuss the impact of Head Start on my life.  Who would have ever predicted that a kid from the other side of the tracks of Joliet IL, literally and figuratively, would go on to study and graduate from the U. S. Naval Academy; become a U. S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot and selected to Marine One to fly Presidents George H. W. Bush and William J. Clinton; work on Wall Street as a bond trader; become the Director of the Virginia Department of Business Assistance, Virginia’s equivalent to the Federal Small Business Administration; start and own two businesses; and ultimately be sitting across the aisle from members of Congress to talk about my experiences?

Statistically, my odds were bleak …I am the youngest of six, born to a mother who dropped out of school and was married when she was 15 to escape an abusive home environment.  She fared no better with my father as he also abused her and us, the children; so at the age of 22, my mother left my father and became a single mother of six – I am the youngest.

While my mother worked hard to make sure that we were adequately fed, clothed and sheltered, without a formal education or a support system, her job options were limited but we scraped.  Fortunately, my mother knew that the great equalizer in our country is attaining a good education.  Therefore she worked hard to get us into good schools and continuously encouraged us to study hard.  But, again, options were limited in the neighborhoods where we lived in.  Luckily, when Head Start was established in 1965, I and one of my sisters were age appropriate for the program and my mother immediately enrolled us.

I don’t remember much about my time in Head Start, but I distinctly remember the delicious lunches and singing time which I am certain were the building blocks for my success as an adult.  Little did I know then that those “yummy” lunches were critical in providing me with the nutritional foundation to learn and to live healthily.  In addition, I strongly recollect the “circle times” and the many educational songs we learned.  According to my mother, it was then that I became an avid reader, and gained a penchant for numbers and arithmetic, all of which has served me well in my scholastic and professional life.

A lot has happened in the intervening years…as you can see, not only am I NOT a statistic, but more importantly I am a wholly contributing member of society, in particular in my role as a father and husband; something that I did not experience as a child. The same can be said for my sister who attended Head Start and is now one of the most experienced and sought after court reporters in Houston, TX.  However, my other four siblings who did not attend Head Start have had significant setbacks in their own lives, including the death of my oldest sister and brother prior to their 35th birthdays.  While we will never know definitively whether Head Start would have altered their lives for the better, there is compelling evidence to believe that it did for me and my sister.

My experiences as a military member; a successful entrepreneur who has hired employees; a board member on public and private organizations; and as a parent volunteer for my children’s schools and sports activities show that I’ve been able to contribute not only to the social, but also to the economic strength of my country and community. There is no doubt that the amount that was invested in my Head Start experience has been returned by a significant multiplier.  Now multiply that by the thousands/millions of lives touched by Head Start…that is the true measure of Head Start’s value.

Charlie “Chuck” Mills – Co-Founder and President, Salera Employee Benefits Solutions, LLC