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Head Start program feels pressure of federal shutdown

Jaden Ferrel Yazhrel Griffboth 4 enjoy hot lunch Head Start Waukegan Tuesday Oct. 8. 'I love broccoli!' Yazhrel said. | Judy

Jaden Ferrel and Yazhrel Griffin, both 4, enjoy hot lunch at Head Start in Waukegan on Tuesday, Oct. 8. "I love broccoli!" Yazhrel said. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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“Each One Reach One,” a
benefit concert for Community Action Partnership of Lake County will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at First Corinthian M. B. Church, 1529 Elizabeth Ave., North Chicago.

The concert will feature gospel groups including Voices of Corinthians, the Corinthian Spirituals, Voices of Greater Faith Church Baptist and guest soloists and speakers.

Admission is free, but a freewill offering will be held.

For more information, contact Tammy Moore at (847) 208-8926.

Donations via check may also be made payable to Community Action Partnership of Lake County, P.O. Box 9059, Waukegan, IL 60079-9059.

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Updated: December 8, 2013 2:43AM

Jasmine Croft does not want to contemplate a possible closure of Head Start, the nearly 50-year-old, federally funded early childhood education program for low-income children.

“He needs it!” Croft said on Tuesday as she walked her son, Jaiden Gooden, 4, into a Head Start classroom at Community Action Partnership of Lake County, 1200 Glen Flora Ave., Waukegan. “It’s preparing him for kindergarten.”

Jaiden, who said his favorite thing to do at Head Start is “Play!” has made leaps in speech and communication and in relating to people, especially other kids, since he began Head Start last year, according to Croft, who said she needs the program, too.

“I don’t have to pay for dayare because he’s in school,” said Croft, 28, of Waukegan, who works as a nurse assistant in Gurnee. CAP, which oversees Head Start for 698 children at seven sites in Lake County, including two more in Waukegan and one each in Zion, North Chicago, Grayslake and Ingleside, is steeling itself and at the same time trying to stave off a possible major hit to services if the partial government shutdown shambles into next week.

While other Head Starts around the nation have already temporarily closed shop, the Lake County program, because of its funding cycle, was able to draw on revenues in September before Congress reached an impasse.

“My concern is how long will the shutdown go,” said Mary Lockhart White, CAP executive director. “Our challenge is just talking to people in (federal) offices because there’s limited staff there. We will be looking at the end of this week or early next week to access funding again. We’re hoping we won’t have issues.”

Head Start faces another challenge: verifying income and personal information through a skeleton-staffed Social Security Administration.

“I may not be shut down, but if the people I have to communicate with and get approval from are shut down, I can’t move,” White said. “I can’t make a decision, so that will eventually have the same effect. Some people are not getting their paychecks. But the flip side is people who can’t get services because of the lack of information flow.”

CAP is working to minimize effects of the federal funding squeeze on the $5 million a year Head Start program and other partially federal-funded services that include LIHEAP utility bill assistance, weatherization, housing, before- and after-school care and food and other assistance to 14,000 people a year. Head Start took a $300,000 hit last year under sequestration or automatic federal budget cuts.

The agency has developed a partnership with Waukegan School District 60’s EPIC early learning initiative, which now provides busing and academic programming. It has formed the not-for-profit Community Action Foundation of Northern Illinois to ferret out private dollars and it is also tapping the goodwill of churches, through appeal letters, as well as businesses and individuals. It is also preparing to open a new resale boutique in downtown Zion − proceeds from which will go to stock CAP’s food pantry.

“We’re building social enterprises so we don’t have to rely on government support,” White said. “So when we have budget cuts and government shutdowns, our clients won’t suffer.”

Gloria Dorsey, 27, of Waukegan, who works retail in Libertyville, said it would be difficult to keep working if she couldn’t rely on Head Start to help care for her daughter, Alexis, 4.

“She’s here most of the day,” Dorsey said. “I don’t have to worry about a babysitter. This shutdown is so unfair. It’s crazy.”

The government shutdown, White said, is applying added pressure to already stressed low-income households.

“You’re denying a very vulnerable population access to education and nutritional services,” she said.

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