Caption: Kendra Irwin with son, Connor. Photo provided by Irwin.
For Kendra Irwin, Community Action is not only the organization that prepared her son Connor for kindergarten, it is the support her family needed to get through a financial hardship and gave her the opportunity to give back. With enrollment beginning for fall Head Start classes, more families will soon be able to share a similar story.
Many Community Action Agencies throughout Ohio operate Head Start—a free, school readiness program. Working closely with students’ families, Head Start offers targeted social, emotional, and intellectual growth opportunities to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Programs are tailored to the needs of each child, so they are able to learn in the best way possible.
In addition to serving children, Head Start also aspires to serve families. At HARCATUS Tri-County Community Action Organization, the Head Start program connected Kendra and her husband the resources to look for jobs, apply for food assistance, and get their sons access to Medicaid.
When the pandemic forced Kendra and her husband to put goals on hold, HARCATUS delivered food and activities to the Irwins weekly. With the seeds they received one week, the family worked to build a garden together, which Kendra said brought comfort during a difficult time.
“HARCATUS has helped our family in many ways to grow closer together by showing us different fun activities we can do together as a family,” Kendra said. “They helped us get back on track by giving us the resources we needed”
Kendra’s youngest son, Connor, started with Head Start in 2019, where he learned classroom etiquette from his peers and teachers. Before attending Head Start, Connor had mainly interacted with his older brothers and much older cousins, thus making it difficult for him to communicate with children his age. His Head Start classes gave him both the opportunity to talk with his classmates and the tools to communicate effectively.
“He learned great social skills: how to express his feelings, how to talk to friends and teachers, how to share toys, how to sit and listen to a story, and so much more,” Kendra said. “He would come home so excited to tell me about his day and all he had learned.”
Connor also received occupational therapy when the teachers discovered he needed help writing. Next year, Connor will head to kindergarten with the confidence to communicate with his teachers and peers.
Connor’s experience with Head Start inspired Kendra to get involved with the program. In August of 2020, she was hired as a Special Needs Assistant and loves working alongside her supportive colleagues. With their guidance, Kendra also earned her commercial driver’s license to drive the school bus and took a nine month course to earn family development credentials.
“[Community Action staff] are the most kind-hearted, hardworking, and encouraging management I have ever met,” Kendra said. “HARCATUS Head Start really wants everyone to succeed: children, families, and their employees. They truly care for others and want others to have a bright future.”
Interested families can fill out the Head Start registration forms located on their local Community Action Agencies’ website.