Head Start Volunteers Make a Difference

I worked in a Head Start program from 1989-1999. I think it was the best and hardest work I ever did. Hard work can bond a team of teachers and volunteers in a way that is almost like family.

In 1994, a Head Start teacher assistant, Ms. Lewis, died. When the news of her death reached our community, we were stunned with grief.

In many ways, Ms. Lewis exemplified the Head Start success story. Both of her sons were Head Start graduates and she had been the parent volunteer of the year. Last year, about 70 percent of Head Start children had at least one parent volunteer in the program like Ms. Lewis did. This is a huge sacrifice for families that often work multiple jobs, and face transportation challenges. (Continue reading below ...)

head start volunteers graph

Select this link for a PDF version of the "Volunteers in Head Start" chart. [PDF,&nsbp;28KB]

Through her work in the classroom, Ms. Lewis had discovered her love of and talent for teaching young children. She became a teacher assistant. She got her Child Development Associate (CDA) and was enrolled to get an associate's degree in early childhood education. Ms. Lewis was a warm and welcoming presence to the children, parents, and staff at her center. She always shouted my name and hugged me when I spent time in her classroom. Her joyful enthusiasm infected everyone.

At the time Ms. Lewis was taken away from us, there was a volunteer who worked in her classroom just one day a week for a couple of hours. Like Ms. Lewis, Ms. Mack was terrific with children, gentle and patient. After the tragedy, she decided that the children in the classroom needed comfort and familiarity. She told us not to hire a replacement teacher assistant; she would be volunteering all day, every day for the rest of the year. Ms. Mack refused to take any salary. She stayed on in that role, never taking any pay, and resisting all attempts to praise her for many, many years.

I believe the story of Ms. Lewis and Ms. Mack clearly illustrates the impact volunteers can have on children, staff, and families. In the 2013-14 program year, Head Start received 367,000 volunteers who were not Head Start parents. This investment demonstrates one of the tangible ways communities have embraced Head Start children. It shows that everyday people are dedicated to serving the most vulnerable children in their own communities.

Head Start is a part of the fabric of its community. In many ways, volunteers are its backbone. From mayors to parents, retired seniors to bank presidents, pediatricians to librarians, the program's success, the success of its children and families, rests with you.

Thank you for 50 years of leading the way.

If you would like to be a Head Start volunteer, contact the Head Start center nearest you! We promise life will never be the same.

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Visit the 50th anniversary page for more videos, pictures, and stories.

Amanda Bryans is the Education and Comprehensive Services Division Director, Office of Head Start.

Head Start Volunteers Make a Difference. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.

Last Reviewed: February 2015

Last Updated: March 24, 2015