As we approach the 2023 National Head Start Conference, we look forward to celebrating the Head Start community and acknowledging its advocates and champions. Natalie Hankins was recognized in last year’s Conference, where she received the 2022 Aubrey Puckett Memorial Award for demonstrating passion for and commitment and engagement to serving through advocacy—as both a current staff member and a Head Start alumna.
Ms. Hankins attended Head Start as a child in 1967. She remembers being a child who cried often, but found comfort in her teachers. She vividly recalls the activities that helped her: finger painting, reading books, singing songs, and her nurturing teacher Mrs. Katherine Culp.
“Head Start was a great start for me, on all levels,” says Ms. Hankins. “It was a great start for my education journey. Being a Head Start child instilled in me a strong desire to learn that I’ve always kept with me. Both of my grandmothers were educators and education advocates. It was only natural for me to follow their lead and improve myself through education.”
Ms. Hankins embodies the spirit and culture of Head Start. She obtained her bachelor of science degree in Social Work, followed by her master’s in Education and has been working for the Institute of Community Services for over 24 years. She began as an outreach worker and is currently the parent advocate educator. She coordinates with center directors to facilitate parent-child events, parent committee meetings, implementation of parent curriculum, recruit policy council members, track parental engagement, and continuously measure efforts.
She has rallied at both state and national levels advocating for Head Start funding, encouraged and empowered parents to complete their voter registration, and led other enriching activities for children and families such as the Salvation Army Angel Tree and Stuff the Bus in her community.
When Ms. Hankins had her first child, she and her husband decided to enroll him in Head Start. Prior to his enrollment, her son had trouble with the alphabet. After attending the B.I. Whitaker Head Start of Byhalia, MS, Ms. Hankins recalls experiencing a drastic transformation, “like a light bulb came on.” Her son is now an electrical engineer and her daughter, a clinical pharmacy specialist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“It feels like a full circle moment doing what I do for a living,” stated Ms. Hankins. “I remember enjoying learning at Head Start as a child. That’s why I believed in Head Start to support my child. Then, I really enjoyed the training topics for Head Start parents; they motivated me to be so engaged. Now, I do the same for other Head Start parents. What keeps me going is seeing the wonderful and positive outcomes on children and their families.”
Interested in applying for the Aubrey Puckett Memorial Award? Visit NHSA’s Scholarships and Awards page to learn more.