NHSA Onsite: Deputy Director Tommy Sheridan’s Head Start road trip

By: Tommy Sheridan, National Head Start Association Deputy Director

NHSA Deputy Director Tommy Sheridan finished up his road trip from New Mexico to Minnesota. Look back at his stories and takeaways from stops at Head Start programs along the route via #NHSAonSite.

Ten days, six states, six state capitals, 12 Head Start site visits, plus two state house visits, countless cups of coffee, and many hours in the car later…I’ve completed my road trip from New Mexico to Minnesota! For the past year and a half, NHSA has been in close contact with programs across the country, hearing about how sites adapted to virtual programming, reopened for in-person services safely, and supported children, families, and staff through many ups and downs. We’ve been inspired by these stories and grateful for Head Start’s resilience, and seeing programs in action again was really something special.

The final leg of my journey took me though Nebraska, Iowa, and finally up to Minnesota. In Nebraska I saw three programs in one day, starting with the Head Start Child and Family Development Program in Hastings. I’ve worked with the director of that program, Deb Ross, on advocacy for many years (she’s definitely an advocacy all-star!). Their center is in a converted K-Mart building and it is equipped with all sorts of partner programs, resources for families, and a corn field right in the backyard. To top it all off, Lois Butler, a retired Head Start director and good friend, dropped by for the visit when she heard that I was going to be in town!

After that early morning visit, I drove an hour north up to Columbus to see Sue Obermiller, director of Early Childhood Programs at Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership. Sue is a longtime Head Start champion and a former member of NHSA’s board of directors. She is entering a well-deserved retirement and I was grateful to congratulate her in person. The staff there told me about a strategic ad campaign they have engaged in to boost up recruitment efforts.

Finally, I dropped down to Lincoln to see Jill Bomberger and her very impressive program at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders County, located steps away from the state capitol building (my fourth in four days). I arrived just in time to see parents picking up their children — what a treat! In addition to showing me around their building and sharing some of their future plans, their team was kind enough to give me a beautiful piece of art. When I arrived in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to visit my parents, my mother promptly proceeded to hang that piece of art on our refrigerator—she was so proud!

Finally, after an amazing night catching up with my childhood best friend, his wife, and his two adorable Head Start-aged daughters, it was time for the final leg of the journey. I started off the morning seeing an amazing sunrise while driving into Des Moines, Iowa, to visit Drake University Head Start. Their team is operating a couple of summer programs and we had a great discussion about their recruitment efforts and the need for changes to the Head Start eligibility criteria.

Continuing on up north from Des Moines, my next stop was to visit with Carrie Sodders at the Mid Iowa Community Action (MICA) program in Marshalltown. Carrie showed me around their gorgeous facility and we discussed how American Rescue Plan funding has enabled them to better support families and staff. She also shared about how much her team loves Parent Gauge.

Finally, I crossed into Minnesota and made it to my home town of Saint Paul (and my sixth state capital in five days!) for a weekend of R&R — which, for me, meant canoeing 10 miles on the Mississippi River. Exactly what was needed!

After so many wonderful Head Start visits in as many days, I couldn’t help but add one more stop at Anoka County Community Action to see their summer program in full swing. Plus, I got to see Pinky and my NHSA colleague Rachel Hutchison as she happened to be traveling through the Twin Cities at the same time!

I was reminded on this trip of how impactful it is to see your programs in action — to hear your creative ideas, listen to parents share their experiences, and see children exploring high-quality early learning environments. Your members of Congress need to see it, too. Your congressional representatives will be home in their districts from August 9 to September 10, and it is a great opportunity to thank them and show how American Rescue Plan funding has helped to expand and enhance services. Use NHSA’s toolkit to set up a visit with your members of Congress.

A huge thank you to all the programs that hosted me over the past two weeks! Looking forward to seeing more of you in the year ahead.

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.