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Thank you to Head Start alumna Jennifer DeMars-Ellison for this guest post.

Head Start has supported my family’s development and success. I attended Head Start in Monticello, Minnesota and when I became a parent, I enrolled my children in Head Start because I knew they would receive a quality education and consistency. What I didn’t count on was the impact Head Start would have on me as a parent and my family’s future.

We are a large, blended family and several of our children attended Anoka County Community Action Program (ACCAP) Head Start in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. When my son, Isaiah, started there, he struggled with separation issues. At that time, he was my youngest and I was unemployed, so I volunteered to help him better adjust. I was looking to re-enter the workforce when I discovered there were a few openings at the center. I applied for a data entry specialist role and, due to my skill set and previous work experience, I was offered an administrative lead program specialist position. Once I started working at the center, Isaiah’s disposition toward school changed. He became very excited to go to school and his anxiety dissipated as he and I were able to connect throughout the day.

God blessed us with one more child to round out our full house and I immediately enrolled him into Early Head Start as soon as he was eligible. This was an ‘open window’ moment in my life — I was loving my job and the children were getting older, which made it a great time to advance professionally. The center director, Ms. Cross, was extremely supportive when I decided to return to school for an associate’s degree in business administration. It was hard raising a family, working, and going to school at the same time, but I had a goal in mind and my husband, our eight children, and the entire Head Start team supported me emotionally and tactically.

Head Start helped me reach my goal and after I obtained my degree, I was promoted to the management team and eventually to the administrative services coordinator role, which I currently hold. I then had the privilege of supervising and supporting other staff members with young children in the same way I had been.

I want everyone to know the quality and value of Head Start. The programs are laser-focused on child development and kindergarten readiness. Head Start has the mission to support a family’s successful journey — and it is a journey! — to self-sufficiency. My family is a prime example of all of its benefits: as a Head Start child, I developed an excitement for learning; while enrolled, my children received supportive interventions and were more than prepared for kindergarten and beyond with the older ones pursuing advanced education or military service, and my youngest currently doing well in middle school; as a Head Start parent and staff member, I received valuable support that helped me discover and achieve my professional aspirations, in addition to providing stability for our children. The list goes on!

We are extremely proud to be a Head Start family.

— Jennifer DeMars-Ellison

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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