I have lived in Oconee County since I was 10 months old. I am now 32 years old and have no plans of moving out of this county. This is my home. My parents have been active members of the community since they moved to Oconee County in August of 1981. My mother has served on several committees and boards for the community in addition to adopting 18 children over the years with a focus on keeping large sibling groups together and several of my siblings have special needs.
I am a single mother to a wonderful 4 year old, who has a father that is very active in his life but due to economic factors we are all struggling financially. My son and I have a support system behind us that is rare and priceless. Thanks to my wonderful family and support system, I have recently re-enrolled in college and I am working towards a degree in nursing.
My son currently attends the Easter Seals CDC Head Start program in Oconee County (1420 Greensboro Highway) and has attended this program since he was 18 months old. Watching him excel in this program has pushed me to excel in my own studies. The staff at our center is amazing, supportive, loving, and family to us. I have a wonderful support system but I truly feel that for many of the families at the center, the staff and the center itself is their support system. I feel confident in saying that I am not the only parent at the center that feels this way.
We recently found out that the Oconee County Head Start slots will be moved to Barrow County after July 2013. The reasons that we were given for this move were that a building location could not be located in Oconee County that met licensing standards and was within budget, and that Barrow County has a greater need. I agree that Barrow County’s need is tremendous and in no way am I attempting to belittle that need. With that said, how can you negate the need of Oconee County due to a greater need in Barrow? Oconee County children would be able to attend the center in Barrow County, but this poses several issues that I feel we, as Oconee County residents, need to address.
First of all, the majority of the 62 children enrolled at the center and their families would have a 30-45 minute drive, one way, to the new center, which is located in downtown Winder in the old Social Security office. I personally feel it is unrealistic to believe that families enrolled in a program that was founded to assist families below poverty level can afford to drive this distance twice a day. This does not even take into account the drive time or distance from their jobs and if those parents have children in the Oconee School system, how are they supposed to be in Winder picking up their Head Start child at 2:30 and be at home in time for bus arrival for their other children?
Transportation was removed from our center last school year and cannot be guaranteed to our children in the future. Even if it could, state law mandates do not allow children to be on buses longer than 45 minutes. This time restriction would require all students to be picked up at the same time and be driven straight to school. For 62 children, I am not sure how that is going to work. It would require at least 4 buses due to the fact that the smaller buses (and I may be wrong) only seat about 18 children. Also, these children are required to have safety harnesses on the buses and in addition to the bus driver, there would need to be another adult on the bus. If funding was not available to provide Oconee County with the two bus routes that we had previously and now we are not able to stay in our building, how can they ever expect to be able to provide transportation for our children? It is just not feasible.
Secondly, any child with special needs that is currently receiving services through the Head Start center will no longer be able to receive those services through the center. There are some programs that may be able to serve those children at home, but this makes scheduling of services more difficult. Let’s be realistic, not only do these parents have jobs and things to do when they get home such as housework and errands, but they also want to spend time with their children when they get home not make them work more!
My final point (at the moment) is that I feel that Oconee County often gets a “bad rap” when it comes to obtaining services for low-income residents because of the large population of high-income residents. The median income in Oconee County is $75,136; the median income for the state of Georgia is only $49,736. This amount does not in any way mean that we do not have a low-income population that needs assistance.
Yes, Oconee County has all of the standard assistance programs offered through the Division of Family and Children Services. Oconee County also has Pre-kindergarten programs and children with disabilities can enter the school system at the age of 3, but there are so many children at the Head Start facility that do not fall into these categories and are going to fall through the cracks because of the inability of the families to transport their children to Barrow County.
This center is not just a resource for our needy families; it is a support system for them, a learning environment for the children, an outlet for identification of health needs and prevention of future health issues, and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for future generations. To lose this critical program in our community would be a travesty.
Studies have shown that participants of the Head Start program are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and are less likely to be incarcerated, or involved in criminal activity. The children in this program deserve a chance. The bottom line is that if the slots are in Barrow County, you can say all day long that they are there to serve the Oconee County residents, when the truth in the matter is that the Oconee residents will not be able to get to that center in Barrow. Those slots will end up going to Barrow County children, who I’m sure need this program too, but where does that leave the children of Oconee?
Secretary for Parent Committee
Secretary for Policy Council
Oconee County Head Start/Early Head Start Center
For more information about the Georgia Head Start program, visit www.georgiaheadstart.org.
Learn more about the Easter Seals North Georgia at northgeorgia.easterseals.com