Cobb County’s only Head Start program canceled classes Monday because of the partial shutdown of the federal government. But, thanks to the generous gift, that class will now be able to reopen today, said Kay Laws, director of the Gainesville-based nonprofit Ninth District Opportunity Inc., which operates 20 Head Start centers in north Georgia employing 500 people and serving 2,200 low-income children from birth through age 5.
“All of our centers will be opening tomorrow. This is such a tremendous gift,” Laws said Monday. “We are elated.”
The Cobb School is off Allgood Road in Marietta in the former Allgood Elementary School building. The program employs 25 people while providing meals and childcare services to 169 children.
The Head Start programs have been allocated federal money but are unable to access it due to the stalemate in Washington.
Laws said the agreement reached with the Arnolds will keep the Head Start programs going for “another few weeks.”
“Late Friday, the National Head Start Association reached out to us as John and Laura Arnold had reached out to them with their willingness to help,” Laws said. “Having to close our centers was a terrible situation. Many of our parents had to take time off from work or arrange other care for their children. Hopefully, our federal government will approve a budget by the end of the month and we will be back to normal operation.”
When Head Start doors close, many low-income parents must miss work and school as they scramble to find alternative child care. They rely on Head Start to provide nutritious meals, medical screenings and early learning opportunities to prepare their children for kindergarten.
“For nearly 50 years, Head Start has been the window of opportunity for more than 27 million of our nation’s poorest children as they embark on their journey to achieve the American Dream,” said Yasmina Vinci, executive director of the National Head Start Association.
“The Arnolds’ most generous act epitomizes what it means to be an angel investor; they have selflessly stepped up for Head Start children to ensure their path toward kindergarten readiness is not interrupted by the inability of government to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.”
At the end of the first week of the government shutdown, seven Head Start programs in six states — Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia. South Carolina and Mississippi — were closed, leaving 7,195 “vulnerable” children without access to Head Start, according to NHSA.
More than 11,000 additional children risk losing access to comprehensive Head Start services if the shutdown continues through October, the group said in a news release.
If the government does not reopen by Nov. 1, additional Head Start programs serving more than 86,000 children in 41 states and one U.S. Territory stand to lose access to Head Start funding.