About two years ago, Lyndsay Salbuske lived in a women's shelter with her two children.
She didn't earn enough from her part-time job to support them. The family received food stamps.
"I couldn't find anything with the state of the economy," she said.
Then along came Head Start. While her daughter and son attended the program, which provides preschool, child care and other services for children from low-income families and for disabled children, Salbuske found a full-time job working as a sixth grade social studies teacher.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if it were not for them," Salbuske said of the nationwide program.
She is among a group of parents in Hillsborough County who spoke out Tuesday along with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, against sequester cuts to the Head Start budget.
If the cuts take effect, the program could serve 70,000 less children and trigger layoffs of about 14,000 employees nationwide. Florida could also lose funding for nearly 2,000 Head Start students, Castor said.
Hillsborough's Head Start program also faces a $1.4 million cut that will reduce classroom supplies and bus services, eliminate playgrounds and reduce staff.
"The sequester cuts will set us back in a way that really is inexplicable in this day and age," Castor said Tuesday morning in front of the Head Start facilities at the Town 'N Country Commons at 7606 Paula Drive.
Castor urged Congress to "recognize that the Head Start investments are on par with the investments we make in the travel and tourism industry," referring to the furloughs lifted last week for Federal Aviation Administration employees.
Steps away from Castor stood about a dozen 4- and 5-year-olds. Among them was Salbuske's 4-year-old daughter, Lillian.
Salbuske fears other parents "who just hit some bad luck" won't get the chances she did with Head Start.
Because she works full-time, Salbuske and her kids live on their own in Town 'N Country. They don't need food stamps anymore.
"I support us," she said.
Loretta Lhamri, of Gibsonton, was also among the parents who stood with Castor on Tuesday.
About a year ago, Lhamri enrolled her 2-year-old son, Amir, in Head Start. The toddler has a speech impediment and couldn't talk.
In the Head Start program, Amir received help.
"Now, he talks all the time," Lhamri said. "He can tell me when he wants juice. He can tell me when he wants cereal. I love to hear him talk."
While Amir attended Head Start Monday through Friday, Lhamri went to school for degrees in medical billing and business.
But with the cuts, Lhamri said she worries about her son and other children currently in the program.
"Children are our future," she said. "We need to invest in our future."
Laura C. Morel can be reached at email@example.com or (813)226-3386.