Twenty-two years ago, Denisa Gandara began her education at Neighbors in Need of Services (NINOS) Head Start program in San Benito, Texas.
In 1992 Denisa’s father, an immigrant from Mexico, did not speak English and was working at a lumber company in Texas for minimum wage while her mother stayed at home acting as the glue that kept the family together while supporting the children’s socio-emotional development. “Head Start gave my whole family an educational opportunity that we would not have had otherwise,” Denisa said.
When Denisa and her sister were enrolled in Head Start, it also provided her father an opportunity to learn. “My father learned English while we were going to school by reading with us. From there, he got involved in the local Policy Council and eventually went on to serve at the national level!” But NINOS Head Start provided even more than just education opportunities, Denisa remembers.
“Every summer we got to go to South Padre Island for the Head Start Family Focus Conference and there were activities for kids to engage in while the parents participated in professional development sessions. Head Start’s comprehensive services opened up a whole new world to us. Head Start is so much more than the experiences we had in the classroom as a child, it was about our entire lives and our families. That is the power of Head Start!”
Today, Denisa is a Doctoral Student studying higher education policy at the University of Georgia in Athens. Every year Denisa returns to the NINOS program in Texas to be a judge in the end of year talent show and visit her Head Start family! “Head Start provides a more level playing field for kids before they enter elementary school so that they are ready to succeed and start life knowing that adults care about them,” Denisa said.
She is dedicated to opening up more doors for low-income families and to spreading the word about Head Start, and we thank Denisa for her work!
In honor of Head Start’s 50th Anniversary and Head Start Awareness Month, the National Head Start Association will be highlighting Head Start alumni each weekday in October. We will begin the month with Head Start’s youngest learners and conclude the celebration with the Head Start Class of 1965. As the month progresses, these alumni stories will exemplify the short-term and long-term benefits Head Start has provided for our nation’s most vulnerable children and families for the past 50 years.
Are you or anyone you know a Head Start alum? Share this story and sign up at go.nhsa.org/alumni!