By Richard Rourk
As many try to get back to normal with work and school, the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency (UETHDA) is looking to make that transition easier for Unicoi County.
“Our Head Start is currently accepting applications for 3- and 4-year-old children for the 2020-21 school year,” UETHDA Marketing and Development Manager Drew Deakins said. “This is a high quality, no cost program for children and their families. Head Start provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services. We work with families as equal partners to support their child’s development and learning. To qualify, children must meet the federal income guidelines or have special needs. This program is available to children with disabilities and transportation is available in many areas.”
UETHDA is headquartered in Kingsport at the VO Dobbins Complex.
“UETHDA has been providing the tools, education, and support for a better life for over 50 years,” Deakins said. “The agency is one of thousands of Community Action Agencies in the United States operated by the National Community Action Partnership. UETHDA serves eight counties in northeast Tennessee: Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Hancock, Johnson, Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi. UETHDA has a variety of programs from emergency assistance to more long term paths for self-sufficiency, including national programs such as Head Start, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and more. UETHDA operates nine neighborhood service centers in those eight counties.”
Deakins acknowledged that Head Start is a unique comprehensive early childhood education program offered in Northeast Tennessee.
“Head Start promotes the school readiness of young children (ages 3-5) through agencies in their local community,” Deakins said. “Head Start is built upon the understanding that the development of young children is deeply influenced by their family, their community, their physical and their mental health, as well as by the educational experiences to which they are exposed. Head Start services include early learning, health, and well-being. Our children receive a safe and comprehensive education from qualified and passionate staff while also receiving healthy meals and health screenings throughout the school year.”
Like so many other schools, COVID-19 has deeply impacted all the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, enrolled children and families, and their communities.
“Our program’s priority was supporting enrolled Head Start children and families, even during program closures, in creative and innovative ways,” Deakins said. “In addition to providing classroom resources, nutritious food, and household necessities like diapers, UETHDA Head Start teachers and Family Engagement Specialists are reaching out to families by phone multiple times a week to check in with them. Our staff are staying positive and are just wanting to get back in the classroom. As far as a start date, Head Start follows their counties’ public-school schedule.”
Safety is Head Start’s first priority for any return to school programs.
“The safety and well-being of our families and staff come first,” Deakins said. “Head Start will follow their counties local public-school reopening plan. We are continually updating our processes and protocols in accordance with the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.”
According to Deakins, Head Start and other UETHDA programs will survive this pandemic. “Head Start has been serving communities in need for over 50 years,” Deakins said. “Programs are constantly innovating and finding new ways to help children and their families on their path to success. UETHDA Head Start serves 1,010 children within eight counties. Head Start is just one of many programs offered to the region through UETHDA. Other programs include emergency assistance with energy bills; emergency rent/mortgage assistance; weatherization for low-income households to increase a home’s energy efficiency; self-sufficiency program to help with budget preparation and financial counseling; employment aid to help with clothing, tools and equipment; retired senior volunteer program; and an education program to help those who want to attend school or continue their education. You can find out more by visiting our website at UETHDA.org or by calling 246-6180. You may also call to schedule an appointment to visit one of our Neighborhood Services locations.”
UETHDA’s programs are more needed now than ever before.
“There has never been a time when our programs are more vital to the area,” Deakins said. “Our programs are here to give our neighbors a hand up when they have fallen on hard times. Since COVID-19, we have seen a 137 percent increase in numbers of households served from last year. Regularly we have success stories where we have kept someone from being evicted or having their power turned off. If anyone needs our services do not hesitate to contact us. If an organization such as a church, club, community chest, etc. knows of anyone needing assistance, please refer them to us so we can help.”
To apply, or to get more information, please call 246-6180 or visit uethda.org. Applications are being accepted now.