Rouzer visits Head Start

Chase Jordan / Sampson Independent Zyia Ray, a student at Head Start, presents a card on behalf of her classmates to Congressman David Rouzer.

Chase Jordan / Sampson Independent Congressman David Rouzer speaks to Head Start students during his visit Wednesday.

Chase Jordan / Sampson Independent Community members spent time with Congressman David Rouzer Wednesday morning.

Chase Jordan / Sampson Independent Congressman David Rouzer reads to Head Start students during a Wednesday morning visit.

During a Wednesday visit to a Head Start classroom filled with inquisitive children, U.S. Rep. David Rouzer smiled as he read “Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Farm.”

After reading the colorful page-turner, Rouzer received somewhat of an encore request to read another one. The congressman, representing the 7th District which includes Sampson, visited the school in Clinton after he was invited by Octavia McKoy, the parent of children attending the learning facility on College Street. During his visit, he stressed the importance of early childhood development.

“What you do during a child’s formative years is critically important,” Rouzer said to teachers and parents. “I commend you for your passion. I’m sure it’s not easy. None of the jobs that we have are easy. You got to have a passion for what you’re doing.”

As an advocate, McKoy visited Rouzer’s Washington, D.C. office in January and shared a personal and emotional story about her daughter, who has severe stranger anxiety and speech delays. Thanks to the Head Start program, she’s now able to socialize with teachers and classmate, the parent said. She also discussed essential education, health, nutrition and family support services that Head Start provides to the community.

“They have become my family,” McKoy said about Head Start. “You already respect them for taking the time out to be with your children, but that respect grows into becoming a family. It’s really a nice environment and they take time out to be with your kids.”

McKoy, who serves as the president of the parent committee and ambassador for Head Start, was joined by other community members, parents and officials from the Telamon Corporation, which oversees the Head Start program. Arvelis Byrd said Rouzer’s visit meant a lot to her and others associated with Head Start and the Telamon Corporation, which is currently celebrating its 50th year.

“I think it’s a momentous event for him to actually come here in light of not only that time, but just visiting Sampson County for us to share the important work of our teachers, families and parents to share their stories,” Byrd said.

Cyndy Parkey, assistant deputy executive director of the Telamon Corporation, said Head Start is the vanguard of child development programs.

“It’s preparing children for school, but it’s also preparing families for success,” she said regarding independence and promoting success. “I think we have a whole family assistance approach that other models of child development does not have. I was really thrilled that the Congressman was here to meet with our parents and see the great work that Head Start is doing.”

Parent Shanice Wilson said some of that work includes helping parents and assisting with at-home activities for the students. Like McKoy, she said it feels like family as well.

“They’re very welcoming and loving,” Wilson said.”They let you know what’s going on and they’ll work with us on raising our kids.”

Emergency personnel were also on hand during the event. Capt. Todd Solice of the Clinton Fire Department shared a story of his own. As a child, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Solice’s reply was a firefighter. Assistant Police Chief Donald Edwards said the school has been outstanding partners with agencies such as the Clinton Police and Fire departments.

“It builds that community relationship with us,” Edwards said. “It’s a very outstanding group and important program for our community.”

Local center director Peggy Surles said the visits from Rouzer and others turned out great. Collectively, she said everyone works as a team.

“We’re all about serving families in the community,” Surles said. “I’m just overwhelmed and overjoyed about what we do. Head Start is about serving our families and communities. We’re a team.”

Head Start serves 170 families in Clinton, while 430 are served throughout Sampson County. Throughout the United States, about 1 million at-risk children receive assistance from the program for education, nutrition and health services.

“It’s really heartwarming to see the way that you’re touching lives,” Rouzer said.