Sara Spencer

–  Sara Spencer, Head Start parent, Scottsbluff, NE

Sara Spencer, husband, and three children

In the summer of 2014, my husband and I were on the rocks. I was a stay-at-home mother of a 1 and 3 year old. I had no job, no degree, and felt like my life was falling apart. I looked for a job for months but finding care for my kids, employment, and then thinking about preschool for my daughter was overwhelming. I finally found employment working part time at the YMCA and there was child care onsite. I was also enrolled to take classes full time to finish the degree I had started almost a decade before.

I was signed up for food stamps when my husband moved out, and for the first time in my life I was on public assistance. I was ashamed. A friend suggested I go in and visit our local Community Action Partnership and see about enrolling my daughter in Head Start. I was so skeptical, but I could not afford any other preschool. I swallowed my pride and went in. I remember fighting tears through the conversation and trying to contain my littles while I explained to a stranger my situation and how, for the first time in my adult life, I was asking for help. I felt alone in a world that had been shattered around me, and I had two babies to care for. I had always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom while my children were young and that dream was being robbed from me, and I was left to make my own way on my own.

The ladies were so nice and understanding and helpful. I filled out an application and a couple of  weeks later I found out my daughter was accepted. Anna was so excited, and her teachers, Ms. Celena and Ms. Courtney, and family advocate, Ms. Melissa, were wonderful. They checked up on me and helped me through some very trying times in my life. They were there with caring words and warm smiles through some of the darkest and coldest days that I have ever faced. They addressed the concerns I had and we worked together to support my daughter on all levels: socially, emotionally, educationally, and physically.

Celena, Courtney, and Melissa were steady figures not only for my daughter but for my son and me. They helped me to be empowered and regain confidence and control of my life. I volunteered in the class and we did all of the "In Kind" calendars every week, and I served on the Policy Council, Health Advisory Board, and Parent Committee. Doing this helped me feel like I was not just taking a handout, but that I was contributing to the good and education of my kids and the community. Just because I was no longer a stay-at-home mom doing all of my daughter's preschool education did not mean that I could not be a part of her education and help oversee it. In my job, I took on a management position and that spring I was informed by the Department of Health and Human Services that I no longer qualified for food stamps. I was over the moon. I remember being very nervous and yet incredibly proud at the grocery store when I used my card for the last time—less than a year after I received it.

In the fall of 2015, my daughter was accepted for her second year, and my son entered Early Head Start Home Base with the wonderful Ms. Rita. I was a full time junior in college working 25 to 30 hours a week running the children's programs at the YMCA--but between the understanding and flexible work environment, and the people at Head Start that pushed me to keep going and keep succeeding, everything worked well for me.

When my son was injured and I had reason to suspect neglect, the first place I went was to Head Start, because I knew that they would be able to tell me what I needed to do to make sure my children were safe. They comforted me and put me in contact with the right people. That December, my children and I moved to Scottsbluff with the man that is now my husband, the man they call "Dad." My daughter was lucky enough to be enrolled in Mrs. Hernandez morning Head Start class, and she loved it. She met and exceeded more goals there and was just happy. I took the semester off from work to focus on studies, and in July I interviewed with that same Head Start program and was offered a job as their office manager. Currently, I am working full time with wonderful people that I already knew, and finishing up my senior year on my way to a bachelor's degree.

The Head Start organization has a way of finding the best people. If not for all the ladies that helped my children and me along the way, we would not be where we are. They are full family support, not for just a few hours of school a day, but for so much more. They care about and work to help the whole student and their family. I have seen firsthand the great things that Head Start does, and I have been on the receiving end of the good that they do. I am honored now to get to be a part of that. I am here to help make a difference in the lives of people. I hope to be the person that I needed—the person that Head Start made sure was there for my family when we needed it.

At my first all staff in-service a couple of weeks after I started at Head Start, our administrator gave a speech about what makes an organization successful. The first level is what they do. Most organizations know what they do. The middle level is how to do it, and that knowing how to work effectively makes for an even more successful organization. The most successful organizations though are driven by the "why." They have passion and believe in what they do, and they are there for a reason and a cause, not just to do a job. Head Start is all about the "why." Nearly every day our human resource manager asks me if I am doing good, and I always have the same response: "We work for Head Start. We are in the business of doing good."