I would like to share with you the story of my family’s experience with the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency Head Start. My journey with this program starts in the fall of 1999, 10 months after being resettled to Fargo as a refugee. Being the first family from Burundi to be resettled in the community, I did not have any friends or relatives to walk with me through the challenges of starting over in a new world. Head Start played a crucial role in my adjustment and if, today, we are doing very well as a family, I credit that to the tremendous support and education we received during the times my children were respectively in the program.
Coming from a country where school and home have a clear separation, I did not expect Head Start Family Advocate and Health Coordinators to help me with anything other than information pertaining to school. They helped me navigate the different systems like health, education, and employment. For example, when my son Yann needed a dental appointment, they asked me if I needed help scheduling or if I had transportation to take him to the doctor’s office. After my daughter Nicole had a vision screening at Head Start, they advised me to take her to the eye doctor, and sure enough, she needed glasses. They made me feel very comfortable and knowing that I could call “anytime about anything” gave me peace of mind. I found in them the friend, the relative I left behind.
I also attended as many parenting classes as I could, because they were very helpful and free. The environment was always welcoming. Being a single parent is not an easy responsibility, and raising children in a country with a different culture, different expectations, and different rules made it even more challenging. Head Start was a great resource for me. I hope the level of services remains the same for many more families in similar situations as mine throughout the years.
My two children were not only ready for kindergarten when they completed Head Start, but they also had developed a level of self-confidence that will help them their entire life. Being in multicultural classrooms at that young age helped them integrate faster and learn better. I loved the fact that my children were not the only students of African descent. In North Dakota, not all the parents can brag about the fact their child attended a diverse preschool. Our community is so lucky to have a program like this.
Today, Yann is 15 and Nicole is 9. They are both very well adjusted socially and emotionally. Academically, they excel! They both are or have been in gifted students programs at their schools whenever those programs were available. They are involved in youth groups at church and active in the community as volunteers, even at a young age. They have big dreams and I have no doubts that they will achieve them!
As a family of New Americas, SENDCAA Head Start gave us the head start we needed to have a successful life in our new community. We are very grateful!