North Chattanooga Head Start parents look to churches for help

North Chattanooga Head Start parents look to churches for help

May 22nd, 2013 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Norma Taboada, center, speaks for parents who want to preserve the North Chattanooga Early Head Start program at the recreation center on May Street. From left are Gisela Hernandez and Enrique Chavez, Maria Juana Chavez and Daniel Perez, Taboada, Adriana Leon and Danielle Davis.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Yusuf Hakeem

Yusuf Hakeem

Lurone Jennings

Lurone Jennings

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

North Chattanooga Head Start/Early Head Start parents will ask area churches to provide English as a second language, behavior therapy and other services offered through their early childhood education program that is scheduled to close this month.

If people with those expertise aren't already in the church, the parents are asking that churches establish partnerships with organizations to keep the services in the community.

"We've got to find something to help these kids," said Jennifer Wilkerson, who has a disabled child who attends the North Chattanooga Head Start program.

A federal sequestration that triggered an estimated $85 billion in across-the-board funding cuts is causing the North Chattanooga Head Start to close at the end of this month. It will be the only one of the 15 sites in Chattanooga to close, but it is among several closing across the nation. The national cuts will cut 70,000-plus children from the program this year, officials said.

No teachers from the North Chattanooga site will be laid off, and the students will be offered other places to attend Head Start, but some parents say they don't have cars or can't afford the gas to the nearest location in Avondale five miles away.

About five parents and grandparents came to the City Council meeting Tuesday night to appeal for funding to keep the North Chattanooga center open.

Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem recommended the group speak with Lurone "Coach" Jennings, Berke's newly appointed administrator of the Department of Youth and Family Development.

But Jennings told the parents that government money for the center didn't exist.

"It's nothing much you can say when you lose the dollars," he said.

He advised the group members to write their legislators about Head Start because, if nothing changes, more cuts may come for the next decade. And Jennings advised them to seek help from churches.

"The church is the sleeping giant," he said.

He advised Wilkerson, who said she owned a business in Red Bank, to start by asking Red Bank Methodist Church for help.

Jennings said churches may be able to provide transportation to other Head Start sites or provide human resources to offer the services. They also could establish partnerships to bring services into the community, he said.