Melody Hedden

–  Melody Hedden, family and community services specialist, Crookston, MN

Hedden family

I am a Head Start baby! I am a "wasn't supposed to be"! My family enrolled me into the local Head Start in North Carolina in 1979. Our family was stricken with poverty, but the funny thing is I never knew until much later. My father was a farmer who battled alcoholism; my mother worked odd jobs to help make ends meet. My aunt was the director of Head Start and convinced my family to enroll me. That was the first time that I met my peers that I would later graduate high school with. I can remember my teacher coming out for home visits; I was sure it was because I was her favorite student. Head Start got my dad, who is the shyest person I have ever known, to not only volunteer but to play Santa for our entire class. Head Start had become my security blanket. I eventually, not at my own free will, aged out of Head Start. I would go many years not really acknowledging the amazing gift I had been given from the program, but carrying the security I had learned from Head Start.

Tragedy would strike at the tender age of 12 and I lost my father to suicide. My mother went into a deep depression and we moved around a lot and she married several times. I eventually graduated, married, and had children of my own. I stayed home with my children for a few years, and then it hit me I needed to gift them the experience of Head Start as well. They were able to assist my oldest son in building confidence and paving the way for his career in the U.S. Army. They were able to teach my daughter social skills with the assistance of speech programs, and she is now enrolled in college with aspirations to be a social worker. Head Start assisted in giving me the voice to speak up for my youngest son in having his medical needs met. With their help and persistence, I learned that his failed health screenings were a symptom of something bigger; this led to our finding out that he had a brain tumor, and needed glasses and tubes in his ears. He is now a thriving 13 year old.

Nobody had to convince me that Head Start worked. I became passionate about Head Start and was given the opportunity to become a family advocate at the same Head Start my children and I went to. I started my career in June of 1999. In 2009, I was awarded "Family Advocate of the Year" for North Carolina. A couple of years later, I earned my degree in Human Services. I was also given the opportunity to earn my family service credential with Duke University; I would later coach that same program for three years. In 2012, I was promoted to Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) Specialist. While I enjoyed my position, I knew that I wanted to continue to climb that Head Start ladder which would lead me to accepting the family and community services position in September of 2014, in Minnesota. You read it right: This girl packed up and moved her family from North Carolina in the name of Head Start. You see, Head Start is still the security blanket that I hang on and I knew I had moved from a "not supposed to be" to a "Head Start Hero" in a matter of 16 years. I pledge to dedicate the next 16 years to Head Start and doing my part to foster life changing events in the lives of children and their families.