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Thank you to Head Start alumna Alex Orozco for this guest post.

Honestly, I didn’t know I attended Head Start until recently. I work for a financial health company, The Beans, and we were invited to facilitate a financial wellness workshop at the National Head Start Association’s Parent and Family Engagement Conference. Prepping for the trip triggered a vague memory of my preschool experience, which led me to ask my mother if I attended Head Start. She confirmed that I had. That was news to me!

During my early years, a change in our family dynamics disrupted my mother’s childcare option. She heard about and enrolled me in a local Head Start in Chicago. Attending Head Start enabled her to work and attend school while providing me with a safe, educational environment without adding financial strain. I am grateful Head Start was an available option for my mom. It turned out to be a good decision for both of us. Today, I am a founding designer and head of Product Design and my mother enjoys a successful career as a human resources executive.

Head Start to Financial Wellness

I have always liked adventure and challenge and I am confident Head Start nurtured those traits. I have studied and traveled internationally, interned for a U.S. consulate, recruited for Teach for America, taught public school in the South Bronx, N.Y, and founded my own startup. As enriching as all of those experiences were, creating the resources for my classroom inspired me to enroll in design school. I discovered a passion for product design. The simplest way to describe product design is that I identify a customer need, test solutions, and create the final look and experience of that app, website, or in some cases a curriculum, like the Financial Wellness courses I’m designing for The Academy at NHSA.

Connection is the Key

I do this through connection. I work hard to see through the eyes of others and understand how they experience their world. By identifying their financial needs and wants, I can merge them with great design practices. This, plus the latest behavioral research, allows them to make progress.

Connection is also a big part of Head Start’s success. Head Start builds relationships with communities, one family at a time, by investing in our most precious resource: children. Programs like the one I attended are critical to family stability and financial wellness. I’m thankful Head Start was there for my mom and me when we needed it. Now, I want it to be there for other families when they need it.

Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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