Writer – Claudia García
In Jacksonville, some organizations like Lutheran Services Florida (LSF), have programs to help transform the lives of people regardless of age, background and belief. Head Start/Early Head Start is a program that offers services to all eligible children and families. Maria McNair, deputy director of comprehensive services at Lutheran Services Florida explained their role in Jacksonville’s community.
“By generously offering elderly, family, substance abuse and mental health, children and educational programs, along with assistance to refugees and immigrants, we help entire communities build healthier, happier and hope-filled tomorrow’s,” said Maria McNair.
Head Start is a federally funded early education program for children and families who live below the poverty line. For more than 30 years, Lutheran Services Florida has provided the highest quality early childhood education to children who otherwise might not have had access to high-quality early education programs. The first five years of a child’s life are absolutely essential for a healthy, happy and successful future. Therefore, when children receive a high-quality early childhood education, not only do children fare better, but communities do too. Parents are pivotal in the success of their children’s future and success of early childhood programs. At Lutheran Services Florida, parents take an active role in helping to support and foster learning well beyond the classroom. Additionally, they participate in school activities, volunteer in classrooms, attend special events and trips, and assist with ongoing operations in service as committee and board members.
“Lutheran Services Florida is forming partnerships throughout the Duval County community with organizations such as the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, Early Learning Coalition of Duval, Duval County Public Schools and many others to ensure that high-quality early childhood education is accessible to all families in need,” said McNair.
Eligibility is determined according to several requirements. Families must meet current federal poverty guidelines in order to qualify for Head Start/Early Head Start. Also, foster children may qualify regardless of their family’s income. In order to be accepted into the program, children must be younger than five years old and proof of residency and income must be provided. In addition, Head Start/Early Head Start relies on community support and volunteers to attend the centers located all over Jacksonville where they can be very helpful. Likewise, Lutheran Services Florida accept direct financial support of their programs as well as donations of items needed in the classrooms and centers such as diapers, wipes, gloves, backpacks and classroom supplies.
“We are happy to welcome members of the community to come in and read to our children, volunteer in the classrooms to do activities with teachers and children and train parents on topics such as financial literacy, job skills and resume building skills,” said the Lutheran Services Florida deputy director.
For next year, the Head Start program has 538 slots available and they fill fast. Therefore, Maria McNair’s advice is to apply early in order to have better chances to get enrolled and be ready for school on August 15, 2016.