Our family’s story is an important one in the history of Community Action and Head Start. In 2007, I enrolled my four-year old daughter, Emma Sage, in Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, Inc.’s Head Start program in Auburn, New York as a first time student. I was (and currently am) an employee at the Agency and was elated to enroll my daughter in such a wonderful education program.
The Agency has a strong collaboration with the Auburn City School District’s Universal Pre-K program. This collaboration has created UPK classrooms that are dual enrollment with Head Start and when I signed Emma up for preschool, I knew she would receive better services through the Head Start program than any other location. I couldn’t have predicted what that meant for our family.
Early in the year Emma received a screening of her eyes at Head Start due to yet another collaboration - this one with the local Lyon’s Club. Her screening came back neither pass nor fail, but “inconclusive”. They couldn’t clear her as healthy, but weren’t sure of what the problem might be. Although I am a dedicated mother and would do anything for my child, I didn’t see this as a major problem. Emma had never complained of her vision and she was functioning at a very high level. Between working a full time job, raising two kids with my husband, and attending college part time at night it seemed like a bump in the road.
My family worker stressed to me that I should follow up with an ophthalmologist. And with her encouragement I did just that. On December 6, 2007 Emma was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma. This horrific disease causes cancer in both eyes - which she had - and we were sent for treatment in five days. Upon telling the story to our oncologist at our first visit, she told me that without that screening and the encouragement of our family worker, Emma’s cancer wouldn’t have been found until it was too late. She had no outward symptoms. Had this cancer gone untreated it would have spread to her brain, which is when we would have noticed her losing functions. If the cancer had gone to her brain, it would have been fatal.
Head Start is the reason my daughter is alive. The reason my family is intact. The reason I can still smile at my daughter’s beautiful face each morning. Head Start SAVED HER LIFE. Today, Emma is alive and well. She received seventeen months of different treatments, including six months of chemotherapy, one radiation plaque, multiple surgeries, and lost one eye. Despite all of that, she is ALIVE!
Without the support of Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency, my family worker, and the entire community, I wouldn’t have my beautiful daughter. She never complained, never asked why, and never said that her diagnoses weren’t fair. Her teachers taught the class about why Emma lost her hair, accommodated Emma’s schedule with take home work and plenty of home visits, and made sure she stayed educated in addition to healthy. Our family is forever in debt to Head Start and happily shares our story of life.
Head Start funding is essential in ensuring that these established collaborations and services continue to be offered to children across the country. Dismantling the programs that provide these types of services would be a disservice to the communities and children they serve. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2007 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- U.S. Census Bureau, “American FactFinder,” 2009 American Community Survey (accessed May 2011). Data came from the following tables: Statewide poverty percentages, GCT1701, Ratio of income to poverty level, C17002
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2007 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- Half in Ten analysis of Table 1, 2009 State Expenditure Report, National Association of State Budget Officers.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2007 through 2008.
- U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2009 through 2010.