Christina Leary

–  Christina Leary, former Head Start student, Carthage, TX

Leary family portrait

As long as I can remember, the Head Start program helped my family be citizens when other Americans would give a family like mine a daily cold shoulder. You see, growing up we didn't have any running water or efficient lighting in our house. However, I can remember being in Head Start and being taught the value of learning. When I entered elementary school I was considered a gifted student. My mom had the option of allowing me to advance to the first grade, but chose to let me go through with my yearly pattern of going to the next level.

My teachers were always so giving and encouraging. I never looked at myself as being poor or not having the necessities in life, because I didn't see myself as different. Growing up in poverty was not always a bad thing. I may have worn hand me downs, but I learned to appreciate my life and the things that I could have in the future.

Being a single mom was hard. However, I didn't see Head Start as daycare but an opportunity for my son to advance because of the odds that are against him before he turns 18 years old. The dropout rates for black males are high, so whatever advancement in learning he can receive would be great. Because my son attended Head Start his reading level was above the requirement and he could read books beyond his grade level. My son is now 16 and he's probably smarter than what he needs to be. (Thanks Head Start!! "Smile").

I made a career change in 2011. I went from a Fortune 500 job to a nonprofit position—big change in career advancement and pay but my life changed. Even though I grew up on "commodity cheese" and the "famous peanut butter," I never knew what it was like on the other side. I was just a person in line trying to get some food.

Since working at Tri-County, I have learned what it means to serve the community, to operate in greatness, and to give when you have nothing left to give. We serve over 626 families and children, and I love the excitement a parent has when they see their child learning beyond their capabilities. It's like just for a moment, the feeling of poverty leaves them and they feel as if they belong in society. I am appreciative of the school districts, but Head Start creates bonds with families the school districts will never be able to have.

I started working at the Head Start Program with just a high school diploma. I was inspired to continue my education, and in 2014, I received my B.A. in organizational management. I started graduate school in November and hope to have it completed by March 2016. Who would have thought that a young girl who attended Head Start and lived in poverty with no running water would be where I am today. Now, I have water that will never run dry.