How Head Start Made a Difference in Annemarie Valdez's Future
Head Start for Kent County interviewed First Steps Kent President & CEO, Annemarie Valdez, on her experiences with Head Start as a child in inner-city Detroit. The following testimonial is a summary of her story that was featured in their annual report.
“I grew up the youngest child of a large immigrant family in inner city Detroit. Head Start began as part of the War on Poverty, which was the Johnson and Kennedy Administrations’ attempt to fix generational poverty within the inner cities. This not only focused on poverty, but also on immigrant families. In Detroit, in particular, the focus was on African American and Latino families living in poor neighborhoods of the inner city. My older sister heard about the program and told my parents about it.
At the time, Head Start was only a summer program. Enrolling in Head Start for the summer allowed my mother to work stress-free, since she knew I was in a safe, structured environment. As a child of immigrants, being around other immigrant and diverse children made me feel more normal, and less afraid of school and going into kindergarten. Through this program, I was given the opportunity to use materials that my family was too poor to afford, like crafting supplies such as scissors and glue. Those were things I had never even seen before.
In college, I realized that Head Start got it right--that family and parental involvement is key. If we intervene early with our children, helping children and families thrive, then that thread continues, and helps families stay involved long after the child is no longer in the program.
To find out that you could have a career doing that really changed my world. I thought, Wow, you can do this for a living? I would love to do that for a living!
I learned that there was a gap in funding between the available programs and the remaining needs of our community. This is what inspired me to work with First Steps Kent and to help raise money to fill this gap.
Getting children ready for kindergarten and school is so important. The family support that Head Start and other programs provide is key. Head Start opened up my world and helped me realize new possibilities for my future.”