Each year more than one million children, families and pregnant women are served by Head Start, which was launched in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to provide comprehensive health, nutrition and education services to children living in poverty.

Over the last 53 years – and over 33 million children later — the Head Start Model has been built on evidence based practices and is consistently adapting by using the best available science and teaching techniques to meet the needs of local communities, according to the National Head Start Association (NHSA).

October was first proclaimed Head Start Awareness Month by President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 22, 1982. Ever since the declaration, October has been designated to celebrate the life-changing impact of Head Start in the community. And St. James MOCA Head Start celebrated their 54th year with a Proclamation Signing on Oct. 18. 

Head Start aids the community through programs that deliver services to children and families in core areas of early learning, health and family well-being while engaging parents as partners every step of the way, according to the NHSA.

The staff of MOCA Head Start who deliver these services are five women who work every day to prepare children and develop partnerships with families and communities to enhance the quality of life.

These five women are teacher and director, Anne Matchell, assistant teacher, Yasmin Fikriye, teacher’s aide, Connie Shelton, nutrition educator, Jane Davis, and family advocate, Amber Sidwell.

“I absolutely love my job. We are definitely a family, and I want to represent that out in the community,” said Sidwell.

MOCA Head Start is a non-profit program that operates under a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sidwell, said, “We often seek out donations from the community to help our program grow, and through the generous and continuous support from members of our community, we have been able to provide things for our families and volunteers to show them that they are essential to us.

“We thank them for all the hours they put in to make our program a success. Without our parent participation, we would not be able to continue our program.

“We are so thankful to our supporters -- Glenn and Jennifer of St. James Country Mart, Monica Hewkin of the Walmart Distribution Center, Tall Tine Barber Shop, Leo Cardetti’s, St James McDonalds, Kiwanis, and many other independent community members.”

With their help, MOCA Head Start has been able to provide children with a new book every month to take home and assistance for families during the holidays, stated Sidwell.

The non-profit program in St. James is always looking for donations and volunteers. Volunteers can come in anytime and read, play or create with the children, said Sidwell.

In attendance for the proclamation signing were St. James Mayor Jim White, St. James City Administrator Harold Selby, St. James School District Superintendent Merlyn Johnson, St. James Elementary School Principal Dan Copeland, St. James Elementary School Assistant Principal Tracy Janes- Miller and St. James Elementary School Assistant Principal Larissa Cutsinger.

MOCA Head Start Programs

Education: Head start will help children develop socially, physically, emotionally and intellectually. This is done in a manner that is appropriate to their age and development. Children participate in indoor and outdoor play and are introduced to the concept of words and numbers. They are encouraged to express their feelings and develop self-confidence and the ability to get along with others.

Disability Services: Head Start is a fully inclusive program providing services to children with special needs. All enrolled children receive screenings and assessments which may indicate physical disability or educational delays. Parents are fully informed about all aspects of their child’s progress, including concerns that may arise.

Mental Health: In order to encourage children’s social-emotional development, Head Start recognizes the importance of providing mental health and psychological services in its program. These services help families transition through life’s stages and help children develop healthy social and emotional skills.

Health: Head Start provides a comprehensive health program to promote preventative health services and early prevention. Every child enrolled in the program will see a doctor and dentist at least once with follow-up visits as needed. The non-profit program also helps to establish medical and dental homes for all the families.

Nutrition: Children are served a minimum of one hot meal and nutritious snack each day. These meals meet 33 percent of their daily dietary needs. Children also participate in nutrition activities to promote nutritional and dietary concepts and healthy eating habits.

Transition: Transition services are offered as a child enters and exits the program and with the transition into Kindergarten. Children also have many opportunities to learn transition skills both in and out of the classroom. Often times, families experience a transition through life such as divorce, death in the family, moving, separation, domestic violence among other factors. When this occurs, Head Start provides the necessary re-sources and assistance to local counseling agencies.

Parent Involvement: Parents are the most important influence on child’s development, and is also an essential part of the Head Start Program. Head Start is funded partially by the Federal Government. The rest of the funding must be made up at local center through volunteer hours of the parents and members of the community. This is what is known as “In-Kind.” Program planning, parent meetings, committees, Policy Council, home visits and classroom hours are only a few of the different ways parents can be involved. Through participation in classes and workshops on child development, parents learn about the needs of their children and about educational activities that can be carried on at home.