Commentary: Head Start gives to kids but also has needs

One by one, buses dropped off their precious cargo at a building in Overland Park.

The petite boys and girls with colorful coats, caps and backpacks walked happily into Head Start of Shawnee Mission Inc. A bunch of adults watched.

Head Start began giving the show-and-tell tours about a year ago to expose people to the Great Society program. It has endured here since 1965 starting with 17 kids and grown to meet the expanding need.

This fall, Head Start nationwide said it had enrolled its 25 millionth child. Since Head Start began 43 years ago, many politicians have tried to kill its funding as they’d done with other Great Society programs. But Head Start has survived because it has proven it improves the academic success of kids.

"The more you know, the more you see how important it is and how much the need is," said Terrie VanZandt-Travis, executive director of Head Start of Shawnee Mission.

It serves 211 children from birth to age 5, VanZandt-Travis said. Head Start follows the Shawnee Mission School District boundaries but is a separate agency. Unfortunately the need far outstrips the resources. There is a waiting list of 300 kids who could be in Head Start.

The federal government only provides 73 percent of the funding for the $2.8 million budget for Head Start of Shawnee Mission. The rest comes from the community. "When the economic times are hard for everyone it’s even harder for not-for-profits," VanZandt-Travis said.

The families Head Start serves live at or below poverty. A family of four is eligible making less than $21,200. Yes, poverty exists in Johnson County.

To read the complete column, visit The Kansas City Star.