Advocacy trip to Washington DC

Top Row, L-R; Cathlene Hernandez, Justina Jackson, Amanda Bailey, Brenda Wright, Krystal Wall, Katie Howard, Pam Borders, Edna Jackson-Jones, Dawn Ault, Jackie Collins   Bottom row, L to R: Robert Bailey, Mobalaji Olatunji, Frank Maas, Feleshia Wilkins, Joyce Jones, Michelle Ford.  Not pictured: Whitney SheltonVAHSA’s Executive Director Dawn Ault, the parent representatives to the VAHSA Board of Directors, 
along with Head Start parents and staff from Orange County, Fredericksburg, Hopewell, Stafford, and Campagna Center, all journeyed to Capitol Hill to let their voices be heard!  Countless personal stories of how Head Start had impacted their family’s future were told, some even with tears and goosebumps.  

Together the group made up 7 out of the 11 Virginia Congressional Districts.  Over the course of two days, they conducted 11 legislative visits in the House and Senate.  They also attended the NHSA Winter Leadership Institute for a variety of workshops related to Head Start, focusing on the new performance standards, leadership and advocacy.

1st District Constituents from Stafford and Fredericksburg with Rep. Rob WittmanAs they met with many legislators and staffers, they thanked them for the bipartisan support for Head Start funding.  Parents told their personal stories of how Head Start has impacted their families’ lives.  For example, Congressmen were able to hear about the importance of the home-based model for services, personalized goals outlined in the Family Partnership Agreements, a parent’s assistance from a Head Start Family Advocate with becoming a first-time homebuyer, to name a few. 

Our meeting with Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s Legislative Assistant, Angela Inglett, 6th District

Hearing about the support one mother received for her son’s learning challenges, along with the Family Advocate’s encouragement for her to get her GED and then her Associate’s degree, brought tears to our eyes.  It is not only what the parents say, but how they say it that matters.  It all comes truly from the heart because Head Start runs that deep.  “I really don’t know where we’d be without having Head Start in our lives.”  Legislators need to hear these stories from the real people whose lives have been affected.  Priceless.

Parents also shared how they became very engaged in Policy Council and gained confidence and understanding with parent engagement and advocacy for their child.  They also shared success stories of early identification of special needs or vision impairments of their children due to Head Start’s comprehensive screenings.  One mother particularly discussed how her three foster children are directly benefiting from Head Start.  Another mother explained how post-partum depression impacted her family’s life and how Head Start helped provide her resources not only for her child, but for her mental health. 

Outside the Cannon Office Building, Campagna Center participants pause for group photo: Antoine Nailon, Marionelie Frazer Vicenty, Jamielle Patrick, Alicia Washington, Tomashia Cornitcher, Ashlee Duncan, Dawn Ault

Several spoke about the importance of Early Head Start by describing that the birth-to-3 program allowed them to go back to work sooner rather than later, with the comfort of knowing their infant/toddler was in a quality early childhood setting, while also providing parenting skills and opportunities to create a sense of community. “When I walk in those doors to pick up my child, I am already home,” one mother said through tears. 

Three fathers and one great-grandfather spoke to legislators about the importance of fatherhood involvement and how Head Start has fostered this awareness.  One mother explained how Head Start was their first community to help them on their feet after they moved from Puerto Rico, and how her 4 year old daughter learned perfect English in about 3 months because she was enrolled in a bilingual Head Start classroom. 

L-R: Cathlene Hernandez, Edna Jackson-Jones, Katie Howard

All of them told how their children love going to the center and have better social-emotional skills after transitioning into the program.  They also talked about School Readiness and how Head Start develops the whole child.  The list of important ways that Head Start has impacted children and families goes on!  It was an impactful experience to talk with legislators personally, to answer their questions, and to thank them for their continued support for funding. 

After a whirlwind trip, with a little sightseeing too, the group talked during the Parent “Meet Up” session so they could process all that had been experienced.  Everyone agreed, after attending conference workshops and speaking directly one-on-one with legislators, this was a beneficial experience for all.  Legislators were clearly able to get the message that Head Start is a two-generation approach to help not only the child, but the parents.  It was helpful to the parents as well on many levels: “It was uplifting to know that so many people advocate on behalf of others in need.”  “I want to come back again next year to help share our success stories and make sure that the funding will be there for generations to come.” “I would have never done anything like this before Head Start.  I didn’t have the confidence in myself, but now I do.” 


Dawn Ault would especially like to thank the Board of Directors and the supporting programs for covering the associated travel costs for this experience.   “There is no price tag for up-close-and personal conversations with parents and legislators.  We were able to have real dialogue about what really matters for children and families.” To see more pictures and descriptions of the trip, please “Like Us” on Facebook. 

 L-R: Katie Howard, Cathlene Hernandez, Pam Borders, Edna Jackson-Jones, Yasmina Vinci, NHSA Executive Director and Dawn Ault, VAHSA Executive Director After speaking at NHSA’s Congressional Breakfast, Rep. Bobby Scott (3rd District) talks with VAHSA Board VP Edna Jackson-Jones from Stafford County