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Sharon Horton's picture

Fifty years ago, in May of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the White House Rose Garden to announce the creation of Project Head Start, a federal program that would provide comprehensive early childhood education services to children facing poverty. Half a century later, I count myself among the millions of mothers whose lives have been transformed by Head Start. 

I first became acquainted with Head Start about 28 years ago. My son was 3 years old when he was diagnosed with severe autism. As a young parent without much family support, I struggled to make ends meet as I grappled with how to deal with what was then a condition we knew very little about. I was devastated, overwhelmed, and felt as though I had nowhere to turn— until a local Community Action office told me about the local Head Start program.

Head Start not only changed my son’s life, it truly made me a better mother. The teachers and staff were incredible— they facilitated screenings and evaluations, gave him the individualized attention he needed and gave me the tools, resources, and information I needed to help him succeed. The professionals at Head Start began to feel like family, taking pride in my son’s small milestones and encouraging me to pursue my own dreams and goals. 

I began to feel empowered. I realized that I could make a difference and advocate for my child. I have had the opportunity to expand my knowledge about child development and management systems. I went from becoming a teacher aide to a Head Start Director. Today, I am proud to serve as the president of the Oklahoma Head Start Association, where I hope that I can give back to children, parents and staff the life changing support Head Start provided by son and I.

Head Start programs focus on engaging parents in their children’s education, as well as giving them the tools and resources that pave the way toward self-sufficiency and greater opportunity. Over the past 50 years, Head Start has served 32 million children and their families— and I am proud to be one of them.

So, happy birthday Head Start, and here’s to 50 more years of opening windows of opportunity for all our country’s mothers and children.

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