by: Noreen Dinwieddie and Jenifer Jonika
In the brisk winter week of January 22-26, Noreen Dinwieddie, HS/Grants Administration Director and Jennifer Jonika, Executive Director embarked on a significant journey to the heart of the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., representing the Michigan Head Start Association (MHSA) at the NHSA Leadership Institute. Noreen, an elected Director on the MHSA and a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and Jennifer, dedicated to advocating for the cause, were part of a group that sought to address critical issues facing Head Start programs across the country.
The primary objective of their visit was to meet with Senators and elected Congress Representatives, presenting the concerns of the Head Start community and advocating for continued support. Although Senators Stabenow, Peters, and Congresswoman Rashida Talib were not available, their Executive Assistants graciously welcomed the delegation. They assured Noreen, Jennifer, and their colleagues that they would convey the urgent messages to the absent representatives, pledging advocacy on behalf of Head Start to keep it at the forefront of educational priorities.
During their meetings, Noreen and Jennifer passionately shared the challenges faced by Head Start programs nationwide. They highlighted the pressing issue of the National Teacher Shortage, drawing attention to the dedicated educators striving to provide quality education to young minds. They discussed the growing concern of challenging behaviors among children in the classroom and emphasized the potential impact of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on Head Start organizations.
Starfish Family Services, represented by Noreen and Jennifer, expressed gratitude for currently meeting many of the NPRM agenda items. However, they acknowledged that not all requirements could be fulfilled, and many organizations might face financial hardships. The impending demands from the Office of Head Start (OHS) threatened the sustainability of various programs, especially those unable to match the financial capabilities of public schools, adding to the stress of the growing Universal Pre-K initiatives.
Confident in their advocacy, Noreen and Jennifer highlighted the critical role Head Start plays in offering families a genuine head start in life, beyond just providing early childhood education. The duo articulated that their mission was to create brighter futures for children, and they urged the Senators and Congress Representatives to champion their cause and support the essential resources required.
During their stay in the nation’s capital, Noreen and Jennifer took a moment to explore and gain inspiration from two iconic monuments that symbolize the struggle for equality and freedom. A visit to the MLK Memorial served as a poignant reminder of the ongoing fight for justice and equality. At the Abraham Lincoln Monument, they found solace in the words etched into stone, a testament to the enduring spirit of democracy.
With photos capturing their advocacy efforts and moments of reflection at the memorials, Noreen and Jennifer returned home, hopeful that their messages had resonated. The trip to Washington D.C. had not only been an opportunity to speak for Head Start but also a reminder of the enduring importance of their mission in the broader context of American history. Moreover, voices determined to ensure that Head Start remains a beacon of hope for children and families across the nation.