When a child embarks on his first airplane flight, he is typically gifted a pin with a pair of wings on it. The wings signify the beginning of a life of adventure, exploration, and perhaps most importantly, opportunity.

You could say that the 421 babies, toddlers and preschoolers served through Community Action’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs were given their wings in 2016 when the agency received a five-year grant to operate programs in Lancaster and Saunders Counties.

Though the agency has been offering Head Start services since 1966, the grant allowed opening two new early childhood education centers in the heart of Lincoln’s highest-needs neighborhoods – one co-located at Health 360 (23rd and O streets) and one at 18th and K streets. Programs ensure our community’s most vulnerable children are provided with the developmental interventions necessary to be ready for kindergarten.

Financial support from the community was also critical in making this happen. With a lead contribution from the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln, Community Action embarked on a “Soaring to Success” campaign to raise an additional $750,000 to support start-up expenses for the two new centers. Everything from tiny tables and chairs to changing tables to playground equipment was needed to make these new spaces ready to welcome children. And in April 2017, Community Action reached this campaign goal.

“We are so thankful for the tremendous support we have received from the Lincoln community in making the opening of our two new centers possible,” said Vi See, executive director of Community Action.

Dr. Heidi Stark, who served as one of six campaign committee members, played a key role in raising the funds. Lincoln Pediatric Dentistry, which Stark co-owns with Dr. Libby Johnson, also provided financial support to name a classroom within the Head Start center at Health 360.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with Community Action’s Head Start programs for years, and have seen the impact on children and families,” said Stark. “Libby and I were happy to be able to contribute, as we know that Lincoln’s future is dependent upon the investments we make in our children today.”

Several other organizations have made investments in Early Head Start and Head Start through the Soaring to Success campaign. Others include Nelnet, Assurity, Bryan Health, Duncan Aviation, Pinnacle Bank-Lincoln, First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Tracy’s Collision Centers, Union Bank & Trust, Lincoln Pediatric Group and Runza National.

Additional support from several generous foundations and individuals played a critical role in meeting the campaign goal.

As Community Action continues to operate Early Head Start and Head Start programs, the need for local financial support continues. While federal grant monies from the Administration for Children and Families' Office of Head Start provide 80 percent of the funding needed to operate programs, the additional 20 percent must be contributed locally.

“Quality early childhood education for all children has been identified as a priority within our community,” said See. “We are working to fill this need, and encourage all who are interested in making an impact in the lives of our children to join us.”

To learn more, contact Heather Loughman, development manager, at 402-875-9339 or hloughman@communityactionatwork.org. For more details about Community Action, visit communityactionatwork.org.

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