Hands of Hope with Western Security Bank: 

Head Start: Early Learning for Lifelong Development

December 2023

by Tiffany Ricci | photo courtesy of Western Security Bank

Head Start is more than a preschool. It’s a multi-generational approach to help children and families prepare for school and life. 

Head Start has been in Billings for 52 years. “We have evolved to meet the needs of our community,” Janice King, Executive Director of Head Start, shares as she talks about the Head Start program in Yellowstone and Carbon Counties. They tailor programs to meet local needs - including increasing full-day programming and continuing with home-visiting programs. 

Head Start offers preschool services in Billings and Lockwood for 3-5 year olds and the AWARE Program for babies and toddlers up to age 3. Services are available to families who meet the federal low-income guidelines and foster care families. Head Start’s comprehensive approach helps to strengthen families as they move through the program. One such approach is to provide skills to parents to help them become, and stay, employed. That shines through with the staff; about 25% of staff members are current or former parents of Head Start students. 

Family Advocates make this concept a reality. They are employees with a social work background and family development credentials who support families to progress on their goals. From scheduling appointments and filling out required paperwork to providing transportation - the advocates assist and encourage families to utilize their strengths and gain valuable skills. 

Head Start's well-rounded program offerings include education, nutrition, and health and wellness. Head Start wants to help students stay in school until graduation by keeping them healthy and encouraging a love of learning. They partner with community resources such as ZooMontana and the Yellowstone Art Museum to keep the curriculum fun and educational. 

Janice says they will use the Hands of Hope grant to fund a literacy program for students and parents as they’ve seen a decline in language skills since the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s another way to serve the local population and support family development in our community.  

Head Start is a source of hope for those they serve. Children enrolled in the program receive a solid foundation to propel them into school, healthy and prepared. Parents receive support with referrals to educational opportunities, parenting classes, employment training, and counseling. Parents gain the skills they need to be the parents they know they can be. More than a preschool, Head Start is supporting families and, ultimately, supporting Billings. 

Originally printed in the December 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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