FiveCAP banquet honors Head Start parents

LUDINGTON — The annual FiveCAP banquet was hosted in Ludington on June 5 to honor all of its volunteers who assisted the organization in the past year, and particularly the parents who participated in the Head Start program.

Head Start, and its companion program Early Head Start, bring parents and educators together to work with kids and prepare them for school and beyond.

"Head Start is a program for early childhood development and preschool learning," said FiveCAP Executive Director Mary Trucks. "It was one of the original anti-poverty programs that was part of the war on poverty and it's turning 50 years old this year. The goal has always been to prepare low-income children at an equal or greater level as their more affluent counterparts."

There are seven Head Start centers and 42 classrooms in the four-county service area of FiveCAP. Parents earn points for the time spent working with kids, and 241 parents were invited to the banquet for earning enough points. These parents put in 42,475 hours during the past year, which is an increase of more than 3,000 hours in 2014.

"The reason we have this banquet every year is to recognize the parents who are working with their kids, engaging them and preparing them for school," explained Trucks. "We track all year long the time they've spent working with the kids and volunteering at our centers."

Special awards were given for highest overall points, the highest being Sheryl Micklatcher who is part of the Southern Newaygo Center, with fellow parent Deana Jones receiving second place. Rachael Place of the Manistee Center got an award for most points in the Early Head Start program, while the Manistee Center received an award for more points per classroom.

The parents who were invited received letters of recognition from Rep. Jon Bumstead, R — 100th District, Rep. Bill Huizenga, R — 2nd District, Rep. Dan Benishek R — 1st District, State Senator Darwin Booher R —35th District and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. Sen. Booher was in attendance.

The highlight of the evening was a speech given by Kimberly Johnson, acclaimed children's author and Head Start alumnus. She opened with one of her own poems and explained through both her life experiences and her studies how difficult raising well-adjusted children can be, and how programs like Head Start can help with that challenge.

"We can't forget that families are the core of our communities and when families and education work together it is one of the best ways for building up kids to be future leaders," said Johnson. "Head Start got to this point because of parents taking action."

She told the crowd the key to helping kids was working together and engaging with children.

"We have to be coaches," said Johnson. "Remember that word: 'coach.' We have to communicate, be filled with optimism, be active listeners, be creative and have fun."

Trucks said although Head Start was in the spotlight that night, the purpose was to thank each and every person whose efforts made the programs of FiveCAP and Head Start possible.

"We're really honoring volunteers tonight," said Trucks. "We have a very small staff, so the only way we can serve the community is with the help of the community."