Aveen Amedi, 2016 Head Start Hero and Allies in Action Award Winner. The award recognizes and honors low-income individuals who have overcome barriers and obstacles to achieve greater self-reliance with support from their local Community Action agencies and who are viewed as allies in our statewide efforts to end poverty. Agencies are asked to nominate individuals they have worked with who exhibit the following:
1. Achievement: The nominee set and reached clear goals for achieving greater self-reliance
2. Community: The nominee recognizes the importance of giving back to the community
3. Tenacity: The nominee exhibits a tenacity to overcome barriers and fight poverty
4. Inspire: The nominee inspires others to work cooperatively or to take positive action
5. Odds: The individual is someone who “beat the odds,” overcoming barriers to success
6. New: The nominee views challenges as new ways to grow as an individual or as a community
Michele Mortenson, Head Start Hero
Michele Mortenson enrolled her daughter in the Home Base program at Lakes and Prairies nine years ago. It was an extremely difficult time in her life. Raising two children on her own as she battled breast cancer and an impending divorce, Michele suffered both the physical pain of chemotherapy and the emotional pain of a break-up. Michele had loved being a stay-at home mom with her older son Garrett, but felt her younger daughter Kellen had been cheated out of all of that by the life circumstances they were facing. Head Start brought hope back to her life as she became re-acquainted with her child’s development and the joy of learning. Michele stepped out and attended Group Socializations and was elected to Policy Council. At Policy Council Michele found her voice and realized her love for all children really mattered. She found herself coming “back to life” with a renewed love for education. As a single parent Michele also needed to support her family financially and when she heard of a Head Start teacher assistant position open she took a leap and decided to apply. As her daughter Kellen transitioned to kindergarten, Michele transitioned to the Head Start classroom. She has worked as a teacher assistant there for seven years. Michele loves her job at Head Start and loves to talk to others about it. She is also an avid horsewoman—a renowned horse trainer and professional barrel racing clinician. Michele’s love for animals and her love for children run parallel in her life. “It’s all about fairness, respect, boundaries and limits,” she says, “whether you are working with a child or horse—it’s all the same.” Michele earned her CDA while working at Lakes and Prairies and is a valued contributor to CLASS scores in every classroom she works in. “I want every child to feel free to express whatever they are feeling- to be creative in their lives, free to be silly or free to feel sad,” Michele said, “but mostly I want them to feel joy. I hope that by listening and playing with them I can help bring joy to their lives. “ At times it has been a challenge for Michele to find joy in her personal life. She was faced with a second breast cancer diagnosis and mastectomy a year ago. When her doctor encouraged her to take extended time off from her job, Michele told the doctor she needed to get back to work to heal. She needed the children and her co-workers to bring her “back to life.” Michele says that the children give her as much as she gives them. The natural teacher in Michele, together with the training she has received on Incredible Years, CLASS, the High Scope curriculum and parent engagement come to life in her interactions with children and parents every day. “Head Start is like a car wash,” Michele says, “you get the service each part of the car or the family needs.” She is a team player and is often placed in classroom teams to help bring staff together. Michele knows from her life experience that sometimes you have to work with what you have—find the strengths, and just accept and adapt to the people you are working with. Also a proud mother, Michele shared that her son Garret, 19, is now working for CCRI, a program that assists adolescents with developmental disabilities in reaching independence. The two “swap stories” about work and support each other in their shared passion for others. Michele’s daughter Kellen just turned 12 years old and the highlight of her birthday was going through her drawers to find things to donate to a homeless family at Head Start. From her early days in home base to her work in the classroom, Michele has both found and shared a renewed spirit in Head Start.
Like most 6-year-olds, Senova loves swimming and video games. She has a lot of friends in first grade and often walks
to the park near her house to play. Senova hasn't always had the typical childhood. Senova's dad, David, reflects on his
family just a few years ago: "Before Lakes & Prairies Community Action I was working at a gas station and in fast food. I couldn't support my family so we were living off welfare with no way out. I had 3 kids to take care of all by myself and I knew I needed to do something that would get me the tools to take care of them." David was determined to create a better life for his children. He enrolled Senova in Head Start at a critical time. Head Start teachers worked with the entire family to help them develop socially, intellectually, and emotionally. David says
Head Start provided the jump start his kids needed to be ready for school.
One day while picking up Senova, David learned about the Workforce Development Program. He immediately enrolled to earn his welding certification. David quickly climbed to the top of his class and was hired shortly after graduating. Today, David no longer worries about his family's finances. He hopes to become the lead welder and open his own welding shop. All three of his children are doing well in school. David is also saving to purchase his first home for his family. Lakes & Prairies Community Action Partnership programs work together for families, like David's, to overcome poverty and give them an opportunity to live their best lives. You can provide the keys to escaping poverty by breaking down barriers to achieving success. We need your help to provide life changing opportunities that empower families and engage our community. Please consider a gift today to help families like David's lift themselves out of poverty!
"The program completely changed my life. I was living paycheck
to paycheck at dead end jobs. I'm now trained in a skilled trade for
a career that I love, and my family is financially stable. Thank you to
everyone who made it possible to change the course of my life...
thank you for giving me a chance."