Leading the Way in Community Partnerships

Amanda Bryans

From the very first, Head Start was envisioned as a community effort. We always knew its success rested in both the leadership of parents and support from local businesses, municipalities, community members, and neighbors. We could never do all that was needed alone. Head Start agencies assessed what was available at the community level and used the federal resources to fill in the gaps. We knew children’s success depended on comprehensive services.

Head Start had public-private partnerships before it was cool. One of the conditions for a Head Start grant includes a 20 percent local contribution. Businesses, community organizations, and ordinary citizens have donated time and gifts to their local Head Start programs. Philanthropic groups have helped communities plan their Head Start grant application, and then helped local programs develop strategically.

Recently, President Obama’s #InvestInUS campaign has renewed this call for local agencies to get involved in early care and education efforts in their area. These efforts produce an often unrecognized benefit. In addition to the obvious contribution to the program, individuals and organizations that volunteer at Head Start witness firsthand the way the program works. They frequently say that they only meant to stay a short while, but could not leave once they understood the program’s power.

Over the years, Head Start has produced several resources for community partnerships. In the early 2000s Head Start developed the Quality in Linking Together (QUILT) resources. These papers helped Head Start agencies develop formal agreements with community partners. We revisited and updated these papers just last year to help communities plan partnerships between Early Head Start and child care agencies. Other resources can be found in the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement section of the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC), as well as the Program Management and Fiscal Operations section.

Strong Head Start programs are anchors for the community. Our guiding principles require Head Start programs to assess the needs and strengths of their service area, and to forge partnerships between families and service organizations. Head Start agencies are in a unique position to help parents and caregivers better meet the needs of their families through community partnerships.  We invite Head Start agencies to share the stories of their most vibrant partnerships on the 50th anniversary page of the ECLKC.

The community spirit of Head Start is as vibrant today as it was in 1965, the spirit of which First Lady Ladybird Johnson captured wonderfully:

When the Head Start program was announced last February, I was sure it was going to be a success. There were so many warm and wonderful things built into it. But even in my most optimistic moments, I did not foresee just how amazingly successful it would be. Nor did I anticipate the tremendous outpouring of volunteers all over the country, eager to be of help and give of their time and their hearts.

There are inspiring stories from projects in small towns and big cities. Stories of parents who, for the first time, realized a teacher might be a friend instead of someone in authority. There are stories of volunteers who found their time rewarded by the job of reaching into a child’s mind and heart and of watching him respond. There are stories of teachers who doubted the value of Head Start, who doubted that mothers could work as aides or participate in meetings. They have now changed their minds and their points of view, and are enthusiastic about what can be accomplished.

I have visited projects in several areas and heard the reports of leaders from all over the country. I have seen the eager interest of the professionals and the semi-professionals—those bright, young junior volunteers working patiently and encouragingly with the youngsters.

What has made Head Start a success is the enthusiasm, the dedication, and above all, the belief in the project on the part of everyone involved."

—Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, excerpt from "An invitation to help: Head Start child development programs, a community action program for young children," 1966

While America looks very different in 2015, we still have far too many young children living in poverty. Our founders’ vision for a community-based program providing high-quality education and comprehensive services is as relevant today as it was in 1965. Their belief in the importance of early childhood education has been reinforced many times over by the research over the last five decades.

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.

Leading the Way in Community Partnerships. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2015. English.

Last Reviewed: January 2015

Last Updated: February 26, 2015