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Head Start benefits the whole family

I could tell you how Thunderbug arrived one day at the La Paloma Head Start Center on Nebraska Avenue and lit up the room without the aid of electricity.

I could tell you how these truly beautiful children buzzed around the Lightning mascot, waving copies of Hey Coach, the book written by Christine Tortorella, the wife of Lightning coach John Tortorella.

I could tell you how bright, happy, healthy faces indicated these kids were at risk … of having too much fun.

I could tell you how a foster grandmother from Seniors in Service was there to comfort the one or two children who got a little too unruly.

I could tell you how Head Start, in conjunction with the school district and Nova Southeastern University, is the county's largest preschool provider, serving more than 3,070 preschool children who meet federal poverty guidelines. I could tell you it has a waiting list of 1,800.

I could tell you about the 310 preschoolers with special needs or the fact that Hillsborough's Head Start serves 68 homeless children. I could tell you that each child receives nutritious meals, health and dental care, and backpacks to help them transition into kindergarten.

I could tell you all of that, but that would capture only part of the Head Start story.

You see, the service does more than just take care of low-income kids. It challenges the parents to build upon the support they receive and create a better life for themselves and their children.

The parents or parent of every Head Start child must have a job or be in school. Each family has a social worker who works with it on professional and personal goals. Head Start offers various counseling programs from prenatal care to leadership training to marriage and relationship counseling.

Fathers of Head Start children can enroll in the Men's Project, a joint effort with the local Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which educates them on various aspects of life. The Head Start Foundation funds scholarships for parents.

In the end, Head Start nurtures children while lifting up the parents.

"Our main goal is to make sure these children have a better opportunity than other children in Hillsborough County and a better opportunity than I had as a former Head Start graduate," director Louis Finney said.

On March 28, the Head Start Foundation holds its annual fundraising luncheon at noon in the sparkling new Chester H. Ferguson Law Center.

Christine Tortorella, one of the community's most caring individuals, will offer the keynote address. A few tickets and sponsorship opportunities remain. Call (813) 283-1181.

Head Start faces budget challenges unlike any in recent memory. The federal government has flat-funded the program for several years, meaning its budget has failed to keep pace with inflation. The County Commission has helped bridge the gap, but now it, too, must absorb tax cuts.

While so many people talk about narrowing the achievement gap, balancing health disparities, providing earned opportunities and strengthening families, this program makes it a reality for so many people.

If we want the next generation to spin out of the cycle of teenage pregnancies, low-end jobs and abject poverty, Head Start is one of the best places to start.

That's all I'm saying.

Head Start benefits the whole family 03/21/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 12:10am]
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