Head Start Programs were first established in 1965 as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s response to the War on Poverty. The program was originally offered only in the summers with a focus on providing care and education to those who may not otherwise have access to it. Reach-Up Head Start was associated with the local CAP agency until 1979 when it became a stand-alone Head Start Agency. Reach-Up is funded by both Federal and State funds. Locally, Reach-Up Head Start provides eligibility-based early childhood education and family support services to Stearns, Benton, and Sherburne counties.
Reach-Up Head Start and Early Head Start provide comprehensive education and support services that strengthen young children and their families who are experiencing low income. Heidi Larson, Early Childhood Education Coordinator, told us more about what they do. “We provide free - yes, FREE - education opportunities to children and their families. We start as early as possible, supporting pregnant mothers and their families until their children are five years old. There are four component areas of service, Education, Health, Parent Involvement, and Social Services. We have a great education program, but what sets us apart are the Health (including health, nutrition, and mental health offerings), Parent Involvement, and Social Services components.”
“One of our biggest challenges - aside from working through COVID and not being able to have an in-person connection with families - is the decline in the Early Childhood workforce. The Reach-Up programs need great staff so we can continue to offer support to the growing number of families who need us. We’re actively hiring for a number of roles including Teachers, Early Childhood Assistants, Mental Health Behavioral Assistants, Cultural Navigator, and a variety of Substitute positions,” shared Mary Mackedanz, Executive Director.
“This is a really great place to work. We have a generous benefits package, continued opportunities for advancement, convenient daytime hours with no nights, weekends, or holidays, possible student loan forgiveness, EAP, and even paid training and professional development,” explained Human Resources Coordinator Sue Huot. “We have staff of all ages and levels of experience – the most important quality you can have is wanting to make a difference in the lives of the families we support. This job is fun, but more importantly, it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Reach-Up has seen positive growth over the years and is proud to provide opportunities like an outdoor classroom, free meals and snacks, a wellness and lactation room, YMCA corporate memberships, as well as bringing programming like the Conscious Discipline Summer Institute to the area. “The foundation we help build for families is incredible; we are a judgment-free space and always focus on the WHOLE person,” shared Kristi Monsour, Mental Health Coordinator.
Reach-Up works with an amazing amount of local partners including, United Way, Milestones, Stearns, Benton, & Sherburne Mental Health, local school districts, Lighthouse Child and Family Services, Benton &Stearns Co-op., Public Health, Thrive Cohort, CentraCare, Boys & Girls Club, Playhouse Child Care, RSVP-Americorp, Experience Works, WACOSA, and Foster Grandparents.
“One of our core values is strength-based partnerships with children, families and community agencies. If someone wants to help us grow or get involved, they can tell others about our services, share their own experiences, donate their time, goods, or dollars, volunteer in our classroom, follow us on social media, or even just help us spread the word about ‘free preschool for eligible families’ - all of that makes such a difference,” said Mackedanz. You can learn more at reachupinc.org.