Six years ago, I was working in the shelter as an advocate for children when I was approached to be a part of the Policy Council board over at Head Start. I was happy to say yes and spent the next three years going to monthly meetings as a Community Representative. At the time, I knew that many of the families that I worked with had children in the program. I knew that they helped low income and at risk kids get a jump start on their education through a well researched curriculums for the pre-school set. I knew that homeless families received priority (deservedly) and I knew that it was a Federal program. But there was a lot I had yet to learn.
Over the coarse of those three years, I was impressed to find that Head Start puts a lot of stock in the belief that parents are their children's lifelong teachers and that supporting the relationships within that child's family is the most important tool they have to help a child learn. It's brilliant really. Support the family, strengthen a caregiver's confidence in their abilities, care about the whole family not just testing and classroom projects. See the bigger picture. And to boot, they make their program accessible. I mean it's not rocket science that, when you are serving low income families, there are barriers to family participation. Childcare and transportation are the biggest. So, Head Start will come to you through home visitors. Or they will bus your kid to school. They also plan meetings for parents that include free childcare and social events for families that include free dinner for everyone. It's these seemingly little things that make this program extraordinary. Take away the barriers and parents are free to be involved in their child's education.
But see, it's this last six months that have taught me all I ever really needed to know about Head Start. Because now, I am a mama to a little boy who needs them. Most surprising to me was that I needed Head Start too. I had no idea six years ago that I would have a son with a severe speech and language delay. Or a son with sensory integration issues. Or a son who is at risk for OCD. Or that he would need evaluated because he was exhibiting traits similair to those found in kids with autism. I had no idea back then, what the Head Start program really and truly was all about. But today I do. Today I know that it is a lifeline. It is a desperately needed connection for both kids and parents. Because being a child who has developmental delays, learning diabilities or physical limitations is really really hard. It is stressful and confusing. Being a parent of that child is really hard too. We blame ourselves and often feel less than adequate to help our kids. It can be isolating. But because Early Head Start exists, every tuesday morning, I know that MB, our Early Head Start home visitor, is coming. And she will listen to me and help me understand my kid better. And she will try and help him talk. That's almost two hours a week where I get to watch and learn from someone. I learn new techniques and brainstorm ideas. And she helps me to understand all the tests and doctors. She helps prepare me for what to expect so that when I arrive with Mr. Pants at an appointment, I am ready to be the best advocate for my child. She is a lifeline. And let me tell you, Mr. Pants LOVES her. He even makes every attempt to stay dressed when she is here. That's love.
So, everytime I catch Mr. Pants quietly looking at a book or counting to thirteen, I say a thank you to Head Start (and our county board of developmental disabilities). Everytime he looks to me and screams, "Heeeeep!!" (help), I say thank you to MB, because she sat right here in my living room for weeks teaching him how to do just that. And when he did it, she was so proud of him. And he was proud of himself. That kind of awesome, makes all of this hard work worth it. To see pride on my boy's face. It's a wonderful feeling. So thank you MB and thank you, Head Start. This mama, sees all of the amazing work you do everyday and I couldn't be more grateful that you threw us a lifeline. I'm certain you don't hear it often enough. But you make a difference. The best kind of difference. You change people's lives for the better.