How Head Start Changed This Veteran’s Life

by Frank Nolan

Every year, Head Start serves a million of our most vulnerable children, and thousands of these children come from families with one or more parent who is a veteran. These parents put their lives on the line, and came home burdened with health and other problems which make being a successful parent especially challenging.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, we must have an honest dialogue about what needs to be done to make sure that their sacrifices are not given in vain. Every day Head Start programs are working to make sure that military families do not fall behind.

Head Start currently serves over 7,000 children with a parent who is a veteran of the United States military and over 6,500 children with a parent who is a member of the United States military on active duty. There are thousands more military families in need of the Head Start Advantage. We know that we can do better but every changed life has an incalculable impact on our communities, and their stories need to be told.

Stories like Valerie Young’s.

Valerie Young, Head Start Parent and U.S. Veteran

Valerie Young of East St. Louis, Illinois served eight years both in our military, including a deployment in Iraq, and in the National Guard, deployed to the South during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Like many veterans, Valerie suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And like every veteran, she has had to struggle with re-adjusting into a society which does not guarantee her well-being. Upon her return from Iraq, Valerie gave birth to two children, and her life became even more of an uphill battle.

Because Valerie was presented with so many challenges, her emotional and mental well-being, made worse by her PTSD, presented problems that began to take a toll on her children, who were born following her return from Iraq in 2010. She grew impatient with them and would often not be able to effectively communicate. Her son, Sultan, became shy and afraid to express himself.

When Valerie enrolled her children in Head Start, things completely changed. One of the services that Head Start offers is home-visiting, where a certified early childhood education professional engages with the children and the parents in their own homes. As Valerie was committed to giving her children an intimate, home education experience, she and her children soon became acquainted with Sandy, their home-visiting teacher.

Head Start currently serves over 7,000 children with a parent who is a veteran of the United States military.

Not only did Valerie’s children quickly learn social and cognitive skills vital to assimilating into the K-12 education system, but Sandy worked tirelessly and without judgment to help bridge the communicative divide in the Young family.

“She noticed my pain. She was still there to provide me with the resources needed. She was there to be patient. She was there to be respectful,” Valerie said. “As time progressed, I began to loosen up. The children began to loosen up. And we all began to learn and develop all of our communications.”

This is a testament to the unique benefits of the Head Start experience. Family engagement, comprehensive health services, and home-visiting are critical components of the Head Start Advantage.

“By my children being active, they’re motivating me, and it just makes me want to soar higher,” Valerie said.

Now, Valerie Young has become an essential member of the Head Start family. She’s a Parent Ambassador, Parent Council member, and was recently chosen as Head Start Parent of the Year! Through her hard work and dedication to her children, as well as children across the nation, Valerie has exemplified everything that Head Start was created to achieve. So, this Veterans Day, let’s pay tribute to all the Valerie’s and Sandy’s out there.


This post was written by Frank Nolan, NHSA’s Government Affairs Associate.