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Thursday, 26 February 2015

An Early History and A Lesson

President Johnson began Head Start, as part of the war on poverty, in 1965. In the beginning, this organization was made up of volunteers and very few paid personnel. The program at that time, and until much later, was only an eight-week catch-up program to prepare pre-schoolers for school.

Several years later, I volunteered in the summer to teach very young children how to use pencil and paper, how to color, how to learn the alphabet, and basic numbers and so on. It was a pre-school catch-up program.

Another volunteer and I would go early in the morning to the ghetto, and pick up the children on the list so that we could teach them for a half-day.

We quickly discovered, in 1972, that the children we were picking up to take to the learning center were, day after day, in the same filthy clothes, sometimes soiled with excrement, and they had not eaten any breakfast.

My co-worker and I began to wash these children and help them get dressed in new clothes, which we bought out of our own money, and feed them food, again, out of our own money.

These children could not receive what the "program" wanted to give them as they lived in such destitution. Most of them were sons and daughters of people who had migrated to the north to get jobs, but there were no jobs. One or two had alcoholic parents, parents who were drinking by eight in the morning.

That summer, for a short time, we did what we could to meet some of the basic needs of these children. Needless to say, few learned anything, but we helped them live, and gave them lots of positive feedback, as love was called in those days.

The program I had volunteered for that summer did not continue, and I went on to other things, like studying the Montessori Method.

I still remember one little boy, the dirtiest and most patient of all. After all these years, I can see his pained and suffering face. He never complained. In fact, all these children were extremely well-behaved, and grateful in their own little ways. Again, in 2006, for a short while, I worked with Head Start, now controlled by social workers and government agents. Some of the children were not much better off than those two generations earlier. And, the personal touch was gone. We were, for example, no longer allowed to hug and touch the children. There was a huge difference in structure regarding teachers, assistants, and volunteers. We were not supposed to give out charity at all, but only work within the structure. I think the system had fallen away from its usefulness for many reasons, including "Head Start Fade." Governments cannot do what individuals can do--love.

In 1964, 21% of Americans lived in poverty. The percentage is now 14.5%. Not much change...

Educational agendas had taken over from real love and care,  and although some of the workers did have good hearts, some did not. For some, the program was merely a stepping stone to a bigger career.

I share this little part of my life because of a comment earlier today. What we thought the children needed, and they did need, pre-school teaching, was not the real need they had. They needed basic necessities, very basic, like cleanliness and food, as well as positive attention.

I moved from that city and went into a community shortly after this experience. Working, even for a short time, with these children gave me a perspective I have had all my life.

One must be flexible in dealing with the poor, and one must be humble enough to change one's ideas of need. The little bit we can do personally is much more important than the good we can do institutionally.

My fellow volunteer and I never judged the parents. That was not our job. We would try to meet each person with respect and give them the dignity they deserved as human beings. I wish I could have done more, but as a very young person, on a very low salary, I could only do so much.

That is Christ's message for us.