Giving Local Kids a Fresh Head Start

It was either just before midnight on November 30th, or in the early morning hours of December 1, 2018, when a brief tornado damaged parts of Lincoln Park Elementary School in Pensacola. While the school sustained some minor damage, one of the portable classroom buildings was damaged beyond repair. That portable building, owned by Community Action Program Committee, had been the classroom for 18 Head Start / VPK children. Now, they had nowhere to learn, and nowhere to spend their days.

Community Action Program Committee, Inc. (CAPC) has been serving Northwest Florida since 1965 and strives to change people’s lives, lift families toward self-sufficiency, and make our community a better place to live. One of the four CAPC programs is Head Start, a federally funded preschool program for children 5 years of age and under who are living in low-income families. The Head Start program not only provides school education, but also wraparound services that include medical and dental care, speech therapy and mental health care. The storm-damaged building at Lincoln Park Elementary had interrupted CAPC’s services to those 18 children and their families.

Lincoln Park school officials offered CAPC a classroom to use inside the elementary school; however, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) would need to license the room, and that would have required it to be closed off from the rest of the school. With that option an impossible one, CAPC began teaching the children in a different Head Start classroom from 1:30 to 5 pm each afternoon, after the other Head Start children went home. This allowed the children to get their VPK hours but not their Head Start hours. Unfortunately, that also meant that these families would still have to find care for their children each day until 1:30 pm, and most of the support services (like speech) would be missed because of the shortened time period. Not satisfied with this outcome, Community Action began approaching local daycare centers looking for unused space, seeking any possible solution that would offer their families some normalcy.

Both CAPC and Ministry Village at Olive are United Way Partner Agencies. Through the United Way Directors Meetings, Doug Brown, Executive Director of Community Action, and Stan Lollar, Executive Director of Ministry Village, had developed a friendly relationship. Doug knew that Ministry Village had recently opened a new childcare facility (the Ministry Village Early Learning Center), so he suggested that his team reach out to see if Ministry Village might have some classroom space available for CAPC to rent.

When Stan Lollar heard about the dilemma Community Action was facing with their children and families, he knew right away that he wanted to help. “Working with Doug and Community Action was just the right thing to do,” remembers Stan. “It was just a matter of whether we could figure out how to accommodate their needs.” Stan and Tammy Kelly, Director of Planning and Special Projects for CAPC, set out to determine the necessary steps to take.

“Our ELC Director, Kristi Zagar, and I met with Tammy and other members of Community Action’s leadership team — as well as the 3 VPK teachers — to learn more about their program and understand their needs so we could figure out a path forward.”

One of their needs was the ability to serve breakfast and lunch to their students each day. “CAPC is able to ensure that children in our program receive a nutritious breakfast and lunch through the Child and Adult Care Food Program,” says Tammy Kelly. Since the Ministry Village ELC did not have a full-service kitchen, CAPC decided they could provide a refrigerator for their classroom, and coordinate the delivery of breakfast and lunch from one of their other 17 Head Start centers in the area.

Once the details had been ironed out, Stan and Kristi took the idea to the Ministry Village Board of Directors. It was approved. Community Action could use the Ministry Village ELC classroom space at no charge through the end of the school year in May. The children attended their first day in their adopted classroom on February 4th. “Everyone is so happy to be there,” says Tammy. “The parents have really enjoyed how easy the check in and check out process is every day, and they absolutely love the facility. Community Action is so appreciative of everything Ministry Village has done. We have heard only good things from our teachers and our parents.”

Kristi Zagar, Preschool Director for the Ministry Village Early Learning Center, is thrilled to be able to work with Community Action and host the children and their families. “Our VPK classrooms were not scheduled to open until August for the 2019-2020 school year, so it was perfect timing from our standpoint,” said Kristi. “It just made sense for them to be able to use this space. It makes us all so happy to see the smiling faces of these children every day.”

Because of the interruption in their services due to the damaged classroom building, the children lost 6 weeks of their Head Start program hours; but now they are able to make them up. The kids are able to attend their necessary dental and medical appointments and return to a more regular school-day schedule. Community Action is already planning for a new center location to open for the next school year, replacing the one they lost with the storm. But the friendships they developed during these months will not be forgotten.

“We look forward to growing our relationship with Ministry Village at Olive,” says Tammy. “We hope to find other opportunities to partner together in the future. We are just so appreciative to everyone there at Ministry Village. This experience has really made a positive difference for these kids and their families.”

To learn more about Community Action Program Committee, including the Head Start program, visit their website at http://capc-pensacola.org.

For more information on the Ministry Village Early Learning Center, visit www.ministryvillageELC.org, or follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/MinistryVillageELC.

Image Credit: Community Action Program Committee Facebook @CAPCPensacola

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