As town officials continue to explore various options to keeping the Head Start program in Garland, they have called on the county to provide any support they can give.
Much discussed in recent weeks, Garland officials have pledged to do everything in their power to keep 61 children served in the community, even as new Head Start grantee Telamon Corporation maintains that costly and time-consuming renovations needed to house the program at the current facility would necessitate children be bussed to Roseboro.
Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy filled the Sampson County Board of Commissioners in on the town’s plight, and asked for their help, and any support they could give, whether verbal, financial or in-kind. She requested a resolution be drafted showing the county’s support for keeping Head Start in Garland.
“We’re here to request your support,” said Murphy. “We’re sitting there with very limited resources, no parks, no schools, and it just feels like we’re being neglected. We’re not here to complain or place blame on anyone. We’re here requesting that you stand tall with us to make sure that our 3 and 4 year olds are served in our community. Even though Sampson County is a former grantee and has no fiscal or programmatic responsibilities with Head Start … we need your help, we need your support.”
Joining Murphy at the county board’s meeting this week was the entire town board, along with a sizable group of Garland residents. She said community efforts were being made to keep the program in Garland following discussions with Telamon director Arvelis Byrd last month.
“She told us that our children would be served but a decision had already been made that the children would be bussed to Roseboro or the Union School district,” said Murphy. “I was really shocked that she said the facility was not up to standards and it would cost too much money to get it up to standards by September.”
Byrd was asked to come to a July 26 special meeting, at which infuriated town board members and parents heard the news for the first time. “She put the blame on Sampson County,” Murphy told commissioners. “She said she hated to throw you under the bus, but Sampson County government promised to repair and make renovations to that building before June 30.”
That was followed by a facility walkthrough last week, during which Telamon officials noted issues with HVAC, windows and plumbing, as well as possible asbestos and lead paint, exposed pipes, damaged flooring and other safety hazards. The July 31 walkthrough was followed by a special meeting.
At that meeting, Telamon executive director Richard Joanis said the company had not decided to close the doors in Garland, but they would not be opened by September. He cited inspections, repairs and licensing that still needed to be done before any facility could open to children.
“At the July 31st meeting, we didn’t get very far,” Murphy relayed to commissioners. “Again, they had no numbers, there had been no official inspections. They made comments that it was roach-infested, but Mrs. Holder said there had been no report of problems since 2010. At this point, where we are, we’ve gotten their attention. We want to try and resolve this without moving our 3 and 4 year olds to different places because their parents have limited transportation and we have inter-generational projects going on (with the Senior Center).”
Garland Senior Center director Marie Faircloth said the center has gained the distinction of a “Center of Excellence” through its participation in programs in conjunction with the Garland Head Start. Faircloth said, without Head Start, a “piece of the puzzle” toward community success would go missing.
Former Head Start director Lacy Bell Jr. said the building has been closed since May, and he was “disturbed” there were reports of roach infestation.
“That center is very much needed in that area,” said Bell. “Not only do the children come from right there in Garland, that center services children coming from the Harrells area, Wildcat Bridge area, Bladen County borderline. Some come from the Roseboro section. So the center is very needed.”
He suggested that a 7-year-old building closed in Roseboro could be used. The building was cleaned up thoroughly after a water heater leak. “Why let a building that’s just 7 years old just sit there?” asked Bell. “There’s a capacity of 55, 56 students that can be housed in that building. Let’s move that building from Roseboro to Garland, and maybe Garland can work out something where that building can be put on a piece of property.”
The land might not have to be purchased if an arrangement can be reached with the property owner, he noted.
“We should not prolong the opening of Garland Center,” said Bell. “Keep that building in that area.”
Garland officials were meeting with Telamon officials this week to see whether there was some land where modular units could be placed. Such modular units have been used in Harrells in the past. Telamon property coordinator Bill Buckner looked at three pieces of property owned by the town on Tuesday.
“We showed him the properties,” Murphy said. “He said they couldn’t make any promises but they would look at seeing whether modular units could be placed on them. We’re waiting to hear back.”
Murphy said working together was paramount, and a positive collaboration the goal.
“When we’re getting all the negative stuff, nobody wins,” she said. “We’re all here fighting for the children. It takes so much energy to get embattled about something we all care about. We just don’t want to lose them, even for a month or two. There’s no guarantee once they leave that they will come back. That’s what happened to our school 20 some years ago.”
Support and community participation is at an all-time high and keeping the Head Start program is key to maintaining that momentum. Recently, 100 people came to the N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity grant meeting in July, and the town will have its STEP Kickoff celebration all day this Saturday, expected to see a huge turnout. This past weekend, a “Fill the Bus” event, to benefit children at the STEP event, netted $900 worth of school supplies.
“For a small town of 625, the churches and the businesses are rallying around us,” said Murphy. “We appreciate anything you can do for us to give our children a safe and nurturing facility, and to ensure that the county manager and his staff work with us to negotiate the situation with the new grantee. We are engaged and we’re not going to sit back and let people come in to our communities and just ignore us.
“We’re asking for your help to keep the program here,” the mayor continued. “We are a viable part of Sampson County.”
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland said Commissioner John Blanton, absent from the meeting, would be extremely proud to see a contingent from his district united for its community’s children and families. Commissioner Albert Kirby shared similar pride, and his desire for the county board to help.
“Having 3 and 4 year olds engaged in the education process should be the ultimate objective of government,” said Kirby. “For us not to do something about those kids in Garland would be literally a dereliction of duty. I’m amazed. I just looked at a budget where you can find so many things less important than molding young minds. I’m sitting here with my heart overflowing and I am extremely supportive and proud of what this group of people have done.”
Commissioner Billy Lockamy said the matter would be taken into consideration.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.