Stories from Head Start

Being Head Start Parents

When Johnny Ashwood drives his three-year-old son Ciari to school at Head Start, he often thinks back to his own childhood.

“My mother worked at a Head Start program, and I attended as a student,” he says.

Now working for a financial institution, Johnny sometimes volunteers in Ciari’s class as well. “I come and eat lunch with him or read to the class,” he says.

Ciari’s mom Carnesia Ashwood is a full-time nursing student. The Ashwoods have two older children, as well, and understand the importance of preschool education.

“All three of [our children] have attended Head Start, and they’ve all been prepared for kindergarten,” Carnesia says. “Ciari has learned so much this year. He is like a little sponge soaking up information.”

Johnny adds, “Head Start has given Ciari the opportunity to socialize with other kids and get familiar with the rules and structure of school.”

Ciari plays like a lot of boys his age, Johnny says. “He is a rough boy. He likes being outside on his bike and swinging.”

Unlike many children who attend Head Start, Ciari has the active involvement of both parents in his life, initiative that the Head Start program encourages whenever possible.

“I grew up in a two parent home, and I believe that it brings an important balance to the family when both parents are involved,” Johnny says.  “I’m the stern disciplinarian, and Carnesia is the more nurturing parent.

“I want to be a better father,” he adds. “It helps the children in education and in life.”

Helping Families Thrive

Head Start has become an important part of daily life for April Jeffries and her four-year-old daughter Aulani this year.

April works as a cook and recently began a new job at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Her full-time work schedule means that childcare for Aulani is a necessity. Head Start provides that care as well as Aulani’s transportation to another caregiver each afternoon.

“She is learning a lot,” April says of her young daughter. “She likes her Head Start teacher and always wants to read a book.”

The encouragement and sense of community April has found at Head Start has been valuable, too. “As a new mom, talking to the teachers and other parents who can relate has been helpful,” she says.

Head Start Family Advocate Ms. Townser is helping April connect with other services to support her employment.

“Helping parents achieve and maintain self-sufficiency is an important part of our programming,” Townser says. “When a parent begins a new job, we have an opportunity to refer that individual to another department within Community Action that can assist with work clothing, shoes and a gas gift card.”

That department is the Family Self Sufficiency Program, which is funded by the Community Services Block Grant.

Townser adds that April has achieved the Family Goals that she set this year as part of the Head Start program. For example, April recently fulfilled her dream of home ownership. She and Aulani moved into a new home built by Habitat for Humanity, and she also completed home ownership classes as part of the process.

“We have some yard work to do,” April says of her future plans for the new home. “We may get a dog, too.”

For now, when they are not working and going to school, she and Aulani enjoy reading and going to football games at a local ball park, where Aulani is a cheerleader.