Congressman Riggleman's visit to Franklin County about kids, not politics
Politics didn’t matter to the 3- to 5-year-olds in the Head Start class at STEP, Inc., in Rocky Mount last week when U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Nelson) paid them a visit. The first-term congressman, who was there to learn more about the Head Start and Early Head Start programs, along with STEP’s other services, didn’t seem to mind, either.
After being welcomed by a class of preschoolers, Riggleman sat in a chair preparing to read Dr. Seuss’ “Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?” before deciding to join them on the floor. As they playfully crawled around and on him, Riggleman ad-libbed the story to the children’s delight.
Riggleman’s visit coincided with the nonprofit, non-partisan National Head Start Association’s Families Unite Campaign to raise awareness to members of Congress about the importance of funding Head Start programs.
Currently, there are 218 children enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start at STEP (an acronym for Solutions That Empower People), according to Early Childhood Director Shirley Wells. Head Start serves children from 3 to 5 years old, while Early Head Start helps pregnant women and infants and toddlers up to age 3.
“Our total funding is $2,133,665, which includes restricted funding of $42,868 for only training and technical assistance,” Wells said.
Across the U.S., there are 1,501 Head Start and 1,422 Early Head Start programs, according to a NHSA fact sheet. For fiscal year 2019, Congress appropriated nearly $10.1 billion in funding; however, for next fiscal year, NHSA will ask for a $1.5 billion spending increase.
The additional funding would be used to invest in retaining qualified teachers, as well as to address challenges that stem from adverse childhood experiences, such as trauma, parental addiction and community violence.
“I think you already know that Head Start works,” STEP’s Executive Director Marc Crouse said to Riggleman, who serves as a member of the House Financial Services Committee. “All of our kids have qualified for kindergarten for the last couple of years.”
On Riggleman’s tour of STEP’s facility on Dent Street in Rocky Mount, Crouse also highlighted the nonprofit’s other programs, including the LIFES (Lessons in Fundamental and Essential Skills) Academy, a private day school for middle and high school students with academic and social challenges, as well as Meals on Wheels for seniors and housing and weatherization services.
“STEP is a hub of services,” Crouse said. “We offer a multi-generational approach to working with kids and parents.”
Those services, Crouse added, are designed to help people get back on their feet, but with their buy-in. “Our focus here is meeting you and [to] walk side by side with you. You are going to have to have skin in the game.”