Head Start Program May Come To A Stop

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
The West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (West Central) has provided Head Start services to Benton County and eight other Missouri counties for 53 years. It presently serves 38 students up to five years of age in the Benton County Head Start program located at 800 E. Wood, in Warsaw, and employs 15 staff members. A total of 514 children are presently served in the west central Missouri region, but changes are afoot beginning in July. 
 During West Central’s application for the next five-year cycle of the Head Start Program grant, when they were in the beginning stages of contract negotiation, the Agency was notified that it did not have the highest score among applicants for the grant. West Central’s Head Start contract ends in June, and a new company based in Denver, Colorado is set to replace it.
“There are many unanswered questions,” said Gina Ensor, Strategic Development and Communications Director at West Central. “Will our teachers be kept on? How will this affect the children and their families?”
Ensor said that the Head Start buildings are owned or leased by West Central, and it will be difficult to transition them by the time a new company takes over in July. She also said that there is a big economic impact as the grant money is taken away.
West Central’s Head Start program enriches lives by providing high-quality early care, education and health services for children, as well as supportive services for parents while families work toward self sufficiency. Ensor said that many low income families simply cannot afford day care for their young children while they work. There is never a fee for Head Start service
Brooklyn Hetherington, a young mother in Benton County, has a two-and-a-half year old son who had attended Head Start in Warsaw for over a year, and speaks highly of the program.
“It has been smooth sailing for him,” said Hetherington. “The teachers make sure he is on track, and he is happy there. He runs in to talk to his friends when I drop him off, and sometimes doesn’t even say goodbye to me. I am nine months pregnant, and this second child is scheduled to start in Head Start in August if the transition from one agency to another goes as planned.”
West Central has administered a host of programs and services and partnered with West Central Missouri organizations and leaders to improve their communities. Today, West Central offers services in the areas of Community Development, Community Empowerment, Early Childhood Education, Emergency Assistance, Employment and Training, Energy Assistance, Energy Conservation, Family Support, Family Self-Sufficiency, Local Food Systems, In-Home Health Services, Home Ownership, Housing Assistance, Housing/Debt Counseling, Nutrition, and Weatherization.
In a press release from West Central, the Agency stated that “Through the remainder of our contract, we will continue to provide the quality Head Start services families have been accustomed to receiving from West Central over the last 53 years…We stand firm in the belief that this is a grave injustice to our local communities, staff, Head Start students, and families. We are currently evaluating our options in response to these actions taken by the Office of Head Start. As more information becomes available, we will pass that on the public.
On Tuesday, May 21, the public was invited to meet with West Central at 5 PM, in Clinton, at the Elks Club. Then, that gathering walked to the Delozier on W. Franklin Street to the Head Start Community Meeting where federal officials met with parents, staff and other community stakeholders to discuss the continuation of services for children currently enrolled in the West Central Head Start and Early Head Start programs.