A “Head Start” Toward Success

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Before Head Start, Yanina Cazares and her son DiMaggio were struggling. They needed resources to help their situation, especially regarding DiMaggio’s education. “My son was at daycare before he started the program,” Cazares said. “Little to nothing was about learning or education.” Luckily, after two years of non-nurturing childcare, the Cazares family found their way to Episcopal Community Services (ECS) Head Start. DiMaggio was a Head Start student for three years, and “once he started kindergarten, he was ready and always wanted to learn more,” his mother shared. Cazares expressed how Head Start “helped our son excel in his scholastics and gave him a strong foundation while making learning fun.” Now DiMaggio is leading a successful and fulfilling life. He landed scholarships, graduated magna cum laude, and is currently pursuing his CPA degree. His mother believes that Head Start set DiMaggio up for success and is proud of their participation in the program.

Head Start offers quality childcare, education, and wraparound services through Center-Based, Home-Based, and Family Childcare programs. Rosa Cabrera-Jaime, ECS’ Director of Early Education & Family Services, discussed the quality childcare that ECS provides. “Our classrooms are smaller in ratio, so we really connect and develop relationships,” Cabrera-Jaime shared, explaining how the teachers and staff ensure that “our children are ready, not just academically, but socially and emotionally.”

The program creates a trajectory of success for students and their families. “Head Start is known for removing barriers from families so they can return to the job force,” Cabrera-Jaime explained. One example of this success is Heidi Avent, a former Head Start parent, and the program’s current Family Engagement Specialist. Avent had two sons go through the program, and when they enrolled, she became a volunteer. Now, she has been working with Head Start for nearly 30 years. “It feels like I haven’t worked a day in 26 years,” Avent said. “I feel like I’m going to my family. That’s what it’s been to me all these years.” Avent expressed her appreciation for how the program helped her learn to advocate for her kids and equip her with the necessary resources.

Head Start cares for and educates its students, but the support goes further than that. Many who qualify struggle with issues such as gaining access to healthcare, food, and shelter, finding services for children with disabilities, or combatting domestic violence. Head Start also has many clients on welfare, in foster care, recently migrated, or first-generation U.S. citizens. Wraparound services such as family and community engagement programs, parenting education, child developmental screenings, services for children with disabilities and pregnant women, behavioral health services, and referrals help these difficult situations.

Head Start is free for qualifying families. Eligibility includes CalFresh/SNAP recipients, CalWORKs/TANF recipients, SSI recipients, Foster/Kinship families, families experiencing homelessness, and low-income families. The program is available to children ages 0-5, and additional services are offered to pregnant women.
Head Start is one of several community-based programs offered by ECS. To learn more, visit www.ecscalifornia.org.

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Esteban Villanueva