Thursday, December 22, 2011

Head Start lends a hand

Posted By on December 22, 2011, 10:40 AM

Sometimes the spirit of giving can turn into the spirit of greed, and in society’s current state of material obsession, it’s easy for the haves to forget the have-nots. Thanks to the Head Start program, hundreds of Utah children facing adversity will have presents on Christmas Day.---

Operation Chimney Drop began seven years ago under the name of Holiday Help when one Head Start child advocate, trying to help underprivileged families at Christmastime, realized that many of the existing holiday charities were already at capacity. So Head Start began its own toy-collecting program with the help of The Coffee Garden, and in its first year it helped bring Christmas to 15 kids.

This year, at the Operation Chimney Drop event on Wednesday, Head Start will be delivering Christmas cheer to 867 kids and their siblings. Families or parents, with the help of Head Start volunteers and staff, will be matched with a bundle of goodies purchased specifically for their children, based on one "need" and one "want" per child. Donations range from fully decorated Christmas trees to bicycles to blankets, and families have the opportunity to write thank-you notes as they check in to receive their gifts. GE Healthcare and Spring Mobile were among the many helping hands joining Head Start in making Operation Chimney Drop.

The national Head Start program was started in 1965 as part of President Johnson’s War On Poverty, and currently the Salt Lake City Head Start program helps 2,500 children every year, from Wendover to South Jordan. In conjunction with social services agencies, Head Start works to identify and help the neediest families in Utah, specifically those living below poverty level. Kristyn Hancock, Head Start Utah's community partnerships coordinator, explained that the focus of the program is on the health and education of children below age five in order to get them ready to attend kindergarten in a public school. In addition to educating children on how to behave and interact with others, Head Start also offers classes for parents on how to better raise their children. “We set goals with the families,” Hancock says, “We offer classes for parents on budgeting and parenting, as well as job training programs.”

Another major part of the Head Start program is nutrition. At all the class sessions for both parents and kids, Head Start makes sure that everyone gets a home-cooked meal. “The kids get two-thirds of their daily nutritional needs from these meals,” says Hancock, “which is why we don’t use canned fruits and vegetables, and everything is made from scratch.” For some, it is the only meal they will eat that day.

Marisol Toribio is a single mother of three children, ages 12, seven, and three. With the help of translator Andres Calderon, she explained that the Head Start program has taught her children to get along with other kids, and it has helped her recognize the importance of paying attention to them. Toribio’s seven-year-old took part in the Head Start program a few years ago, and her three-year-old is currently enrolled. She especially notices her children’s preparedness for kindergarten; instead of tears on their first days in school, they are much more confident.

Head Start has also helped her—she has attended their Project Reality class on parenting, and she now spends three-and-a-half hours on her day off volunteering at her daughter’s school. And because of the generosity of others, her children will have presents on Christmas Day. What did they ask for? Dora the Explorer dolls and a play make-up vanity set—dreams that only some little girls see fulfilled, but that all are truly entitled to.

(photo of gift bags awaiting pick-up by Head Start families courtesy of Carter Livingston)

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Kelsey Leach

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