PCDC/Bridges Head Start
Jacqueline Forrer Wake's story
Jackie Wake’s first contact with Head Start came in 2001, when she was looking at preschool options for her oldest daughter, who had just turned three. She met with Head Start veteran Linda Whitt, who at the time was family advocate for the Middlesex Center and now serves as lead teacher there. Jackie enrolled daughter Julianna in Head Start but soon became a single mom, working in a car dealership by day and driving from Middlesex County to Richmond at night, where she processed checks for the Federal Reserve Bank. Despite her punishing work schedule, Jackie became vice chair of the Head Start Policy Council that year and chaired it the following year.
Jackie left the car dealership and Federal Reserve to become a Head Start substitute teacher in the fall of 2003, supplementing that work with a job as a waitress. When she offered to assist PCDC as a receptionist at the Tri-Rivers Center in West Point, her work ethic earned her a position as a part-time administrative assistant. She also returned to school to pursue an associate’s degree in early childhood education and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology. She later went on to get her master’s degree in Physiology with a concentration in nonprofit management.
At that time, PCDC’s Health Manager was Verlain Rilee. Jackie began assisting her with health, safety, and nutrition record keeping. By the time Verlain was ready to retire, Jackie, now beefing up her credentials with a Virginia Childcare Consultant Certificate, was ready to step into her role. Having completed several years as Health Manager and ERSEA [Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, Attendance Coordinator for Bridges Head Start, Jackie can resonate with the struggles of many families who enroll their children. “I know what it’s like to depend upon outside assistance,” she says, “and I’ve learned the importance of education, not only for my children but for myself.”
Jackie is not unique at Bridges Head Start, where many staff members are former Head Start parents who moved into positions of service and leadership. All display a special sensitivity as they work with Head Start families and encourage them to achieve as well. “I don’t know where I’d be,” says Jackie, “were it not for Head Start.”
Now remarried, Jackie is grateful for the benefits she and her daughters have received from Head Start and for the opportunity to engage with other parents in situations similar to her own. Educational programs offered by PCDC and deepening relationships with parents and staff “helped me to be a better person,” she says. As an active member of Urbanna United Methodist Church, Jackie has promoted partnerships between Bridges Head Start and faith communities throughout the seven-county service area. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to care for these children,” she says. Eleven years after beginning her journey with Head Start, Jackie is now the Family, Community and Health Services Coordinator for the Bridges Head Start program. Her enthusiasm and commitment were acknowledged in 2010 when she was elected chair of the Virginia Head Start Health Advisory Committee. She now serves on several local and state level committees working to make a difference in the lives of children and families.
Jackie has also used the leadership skills learned at Head Start to work in the community. In addition to being an active member and Council on Ministries chairperson at Urbanna United Methodist Church, she is a member of the Middlesex Rotary Club, serves on the Board for Middlesex Partners in Progress, the Board for Middlesex Habitat for Humanity as the Family Support Chair and participates in many other community events and activities as needed.
Written by William Palmer