Books and toys were neatly put away, and chairs were pulled up to the tables in the new Head Start building. The rooms were ready and waiting for children to play and learn. June 16, at 4 p.m., however, it was a group of adults that gathered rather than youngsters. They were celebrating the new building, complete with additional classroom space.
“Your generosity is going to change lives for generations,” Dr. Thomas Keegan, president of Skagit Valley College told the crowd. Head Start is one of the college’s many programs. “I can not emphasis the importance of early learning in a forward safe environment.”
Head Start on San Juan Island has been located in the same building for decades. It was slowly falling apart, and the program had outgrown it. San Juan Community Foundation helped connect donors to the project and with that funding, a new building with an additional classroom was built.
Carrie Unpingco, director of the community foundation, echoed Keegan’s thoughts and added that there is an increasing need for Head Start on the island.
“Its method is extremely effective,” she said. Funding came in large part through generous donations to the community foundation. The foundation connects donors to projects and charities, Unpingco explained, adding that this particular project was a fun one to work on.
“Head Start is a wholistic program that, besides teaching, does vision and hearing screening, dental and provides mental health resources to families that need it,” Mary Ellen Lykins, director of the Skagit/Islands Head Start program, told the Journal. “We work with the family to find out what the unit as a whole needs, and are always connecting back with them to make sure there is follow-through.”
She added that Head Start is focused on the most vulnerable families, including those without a home, and those with special needs.
“It has been amazing to watch the community rally behind this project. This third classroom allows us to think about how we are going to meet the needs of toddlers and special needs kids,” Lykins said. “It’s a beautiful and huge accomplishment.”
Lykins also thanked Sarah Werling-Sandwith, manager and family service coordinator of Head Start and her team. Werling-Sandwith and her staff have operated without a central location for the last two years, through a pandemic, as the building was being constructed.
Work still remains to be done on in the playground area, and Lykins said she is hoping that will begin toward the fall.
The old building was not torn down. According to Randy Martin, director of the Skagit Valley College San Juan Center, is being used for Griffin Bay. “Many of the kids in Griffin Bay also were in Head Start years ago, so they are back in the same building,” he said. “It is being reused and recycled in the island way.”
Currently, 28 children are enrolled in Head Start, and the third class has yet to open.
Small groups were given a tour after appreciation was given, but many remained outside for cake and snacks.
For more information visit https://www.sihs.skagit.edu/.