In October, 2011 the National Head Start Association premiered the “One Window of Opportunity” animation, sparking a discussion about how Head Start itself is a window of opportunity for children and families–and how critical it is to keep that window open in a time of growing poverty and need. As part of the Keep the Window Open campaign, Head Start parents, alumni, staff, volunteers and citizens have been invited to share their stories. We’re delighted to bring those stories to you — you’ll find more here regularly, and we hope you’ll choose to share your own.
(Please note: except for minor typographical editing, stories appear as titled and written by their authors.)
by Eileen Lohan
I have been an employee of Long Island Head Start for 20 years. During my years as an employee I had three children. My oldest child was not able to attend Head Start due to our income but my two other children did due to their disability. My daughter Emilee was born with Erb’s Palsey. She received her OT/ PT and speech services at Head Start. The therapists were able to utilize the conference rooms and whatever space they found to support her.
Then when my daughter Melanie was born she was enrolled in Head Start on her third birthday. During the school year Head Start always conducted the vision screening with an outside agency. I always took my child to the doctors and never saw anything wrong with her. But when she had her vision screening with Head Start they found something wrong and immediately told me to get to the doctors for her left eye. My daughter’s sight was 20/800. My daughter and I went to the eye doctor to find out she had amphobia, a swished lens, and cataracts. She was prepped within the week’s time for surgery in Manhattan. Without this screening my daughter would have been blind. Today with a lens replacement she has 20/40 with glasses. I will always be a forever employee of Head Start and forever be grateful for the help that I received for both of my children.
by Lisa Grenia
As an adult I never learned the basics of government. I did not know how to contact my lawmakers and why I, or anyone else, would even want to do such a thing. I never truly understood the importance of voting and I definitely did not believe that my voice could make a difference in my city, let alone in the state of Washington.
After my daughter, Maya, enrolled in preschool at the Lower Columbia College Head Start I was educated by school officials and other Head Start/ECEAP parents on the importance of help in the classroom, generating in-kind, and attending parent meetings. Soon I was the classroom representative for Maya’s class. At one of the first few Policy Council meetings, I was informed that dedicated parents were needed to take more active roles and was elected Washington State Head Start Representative. The training for this new position was very helpful but not just for the school; it was helpful in many aspects of my personal life. I brought home some of our teachings to use when addressing my daughter and my husband. This initial training was a jumping off point for better family communication, as well as how to effectively talk to other parents about being active in school processes.
I was thrilled with my new position as Head Start State Rep but did not yet see how important it was. Throughout many of the meetings I kept hearing about this wonderful group of Parent Ambassadors that my friend, Robb was in. Robb and others were doing many things throughout the state and making a difference. My family advocate, Maribeth Foster had pointed out that I may want to look into it since I was already a hands-on parent. Not long after, Sandy Junker and Robb Atherton had both sent me the application with a note sharing their thoughts on why I may want to fill out for the position. With three people believing in me, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and at least apply. My low self esteem told me I would not be picked anyways so what was stopping me. Perhaps I was dragging my feet because, again, I had never believed that one person could make a difference, especially with the connotation of being low income.
With all of these thoughts in my mind I kept coming back to one in particular: Robb had told me that this program “changed his life” and that was a strong statement if you know his background.
Needless to say, I filled out the application with the hopes of being selected as one of the 20 or so parents selected for the Parent Ambassador program throughout the entire state of Washington. I still had no idea the education, experience, and friendships I would make through this yearlong advocacy training and leadership program. I knew the idea was to learn communication and leadership skills, legislative advocacy and grassroots organizing from past Parent Ambassadors, as well as from WSA Executive Director, Joel Ryan, Lori Pittman, and Katy Warren. Hearing many speakers like leadership expert Tracy Flynn, CPS social worker Jennifer Andrade, WSA lobbyist Lonnie Johns Brown, and the many experiences brought to the table by the other Parent Ambassadors gave me the skills to be able participate in efforts that show other parents in our local areas that their voices are important and need to be heard, as well as getting my own voice out there.
The grocery store line has been one of my greatest platforms for sharing information. I have also been active in collecting signatures to be sent to our Senators and Governor in regards to the importance of early childhood education, meeting 18th and 19th district lawmakers, as well as signing a multitude of petitions for what I believe in. I have spoke at parent meetings, sharing the significance of writing letters, making phone calls, attending town hall meetings, and showing others how to advocate for what they feel is important on both the state and federal level. Our efforts are working and I have seen it with my own eyes: we were a cornerstone in defeating Governor Gregoire’s plan to cut child care assistance, we are making sure funding for early childhood education is on the minds of representative such as Ann Rivers, Dean Takko, Brian Blake, Jamie Herrera and Joseph Zarelli. Before participating in the program I thought none of these people would even have taken me seriously. I felt the government was only out for themselves and the money they can get from their power. I was defeated. This program has taught me self confidence, the magnitude of legislation, the power of one person, the abundance of resources we can use through social media sites to reach a wide audience of like minded people, the handiness of knowing Robert’s Rules of order, and that other people feel like I did. I want to make a difference for families and I want others, especially the often-left-out low income parents, to know what they are voting on.
The most amazing part of all is that I feel a change has been swirling inside of me. I cannot go back to my old ways and I am proud to be showing my daughter the importance of volunteerism, diligence, and tactful leadership. Since enrolling in the program I have been offered a new and wonderful position as lead instructor of a children’s after school fitness regimen brought locally through a Physical Education Program grant. I received multiple training certificates, helped put on the Cowlitz County Health & Prevention Fair, lead free boot camp and yoga lessons for multiple organizations like the Highlands Activities and Beautification Committee, as well as the Washington State Association. In 2010 I received an Associates Degree in Sports Management, and am now about a year from a Bachelors in Nutrition Science.
My husband has also been inspired to lend his handyman abilities in leaf blowing business parking lots, helping out at the Cowlitz County Health & Prevention Fair, attending regular parent meetings, as well as running his first ever race.
I would never be able to repay you all! Thank you for the abundant opportunities.
NHSA would love to hear your story! Find out more about creating a video or writing a testimonial at www.KeeptheWindowOpen.org. You can also find get updates about the project by following us on twitter at @HeadStartWindow.