LUDINGTON — When a family enters FiveCAP’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs, the agency makes a contract with the parents that they will be partners in creating a solid foundation on which children can build their educational career. This partnership helps parents embrace their role as the child’s first teacher and empowers them to become involved — and stay involved — in their child’s school life.

By encouraging volunteerism in the classrooms, during field trips and on the buses, the program helps parents become comfortable in this role. And the parents in FiveCAP’s four-county service area have clearly embraced their place at Head Start centers. Parents from all eight centers combined to tally 36,878 volunteer hours and the Early Head Start parents contributed an additional 4,786 hours.

Once a year, FiveCAP celebrates this partnership with the Head Start/Early Head Start Parent Volunteer Honors Banquet. The 36th annual incarnation of this event took place on June 7 at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Ludington.

“We’re here to celebrate the fact that we have such great parents and I hope you’re all celebrating the fact that you have such great children,” FiveCAP Head Start Executive Director Mary Trucks said. “We had 222 of our 381 families qualify to be here tonight. As I look around this room, I know that we have the greatest parents in the world and we want to tell the world about our parents.

“We make a point of telling the people in Washington and Lansing — the people who make policy and allocate resources — about you and what you’ve accomplished. Many of them have responded with letters of recognition, showing their support for your accomplishments.”

Trucks shared the letters honoring the parents’ commitment and dedication from state Rep. Ray Franz, state Sen. Goeff Hansen, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin.

“‘Your hard work and dedication plays a large role in shaping the future of these children and in helping them to build a solid foundation for their years of education,’” Trucks said, reading from Levin’s letter. “You have my most sincere congratulations and I commend you for your outstanding service. I am certain that your family and friends look forward to celebrating with you in honor of your successes and again please accept the heartiest of congratulations and best wishes for the future.’

“Senator Levin is someone who never fails to jump at the chance to recognize community work,” Trucks continued, “and sometimes some of them will tell you they’re too busy, but we never hear that from Senator Levin’s office.

“These politicians have officially recognized what we know, and that’s that you are special. You’ve done your job and we know you’ll continue.”

Janet Anderson, FiveCAP board member and Mason County commissioner, joined in offering her thanks to the parents on behalf of the board. She thanked the parents for their dedication, support and investment in their children’s future.

The evening culminated in the recognition of three parents who went above and beyond this past year. Receiving the honor for highest individual overall points was Hesperia Area Child Development Center parent Carie Miller, who also serves on the policy council. She was recognized for volunteering 574 hours during the last school year. Second highest in individual points was Jan Brown, from Northern Manistee Child Development Center, who volunteered a total of 428 hours.

In the Early Head Start program, policy council member Lisa Vance of Manistee County was honored for volunteering the most time to the program, having donated 263 hours to the program.

Center Director Patti Mantych from the Manistee Child Development Center was again presented with the honor for accumulating the most parent volunteer points of all eight centers. Manistee parents contributed 4,269 hours to the program.

The annual banquet also is the time when FiveCAP honors community support volunteers from each of the counties in its service area. Community Support Director Holly Haywood introduced Jerry Frantz, of Newaygo County; Latresha Palethorpe, of Mason Count; Wendy Way, of Lake County; and Raymond Cerka, of Manistee County.

“Without volunteers, none of our programs would be possible,” Haywood said. “These are the people who help us unload the food truck each month, distribute the food. In Manistee and Mason counties, they help with Toys for Tots/Gifts for Teens, collecting the barrels, putting the toys out and helping to distribute them. We rely on our volunteers for everything.”

A few businesses and organizations also were honored for their contributions to FiveCAP’s programming. Among them were Jackie Gielczyk, from PNC Bank; Phil and Patti Yarbrough, on behalf of Custom Sheet Metal and Heating; Kenner McKie, of Big “K” Construction; and Kathy Sather and Dr. Marilyn Stolberg, of Baldwin Family Health Care.