CAP Cayuga/Seneca: Head Start families braving COVID-19

CAP Cayuga/Seneca: Head Start families braving COVID-19


Our classrooms have been empty since the middle of March, but Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca’s Early Childhood Program, which includes Early Head Start, Head Start and universal prekindergarten, continues to play an essential role in the lives of over 360 Cayuga County children and their families. Along with providing classroom resources and creative ways to keep children engaged and learning at home, teachers and staff are regularly delivering nutritious food and other household necessities and connecting families to services and opportunities to meet emergent needs. Head Start families and staff are confronting unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 with resilience, compassion and strength.

Fifty-five years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched Head Start as an innovative childhood development program designed to provide comprehensive services to help meet the emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs of children from low-income families. He said, “the program was conceived not so much as a federal effort but really as a neighborhood effort,” and its success would be in large part due to the community that would give their time, “lend their talents, their warmth, their hands and their hearts.” The community that CAP’s Head Start program has built since 1971 is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s what has allowed us to quickly adapt to these difficult times, provide a beacon of hope through so much uncertainty, and give families the ability to continue to grow and thrive amid crisis and come out the other side stronger.

Head Start promotes school readiness of children ages birth to 5 by supporting the development of the whole child. We offer a diverse, inclusive learning environment to enable each child to reach their full potential through an individualized approach. You often hear about the Head Start advantage, and what we are able to provide through our program is truly a lifeline to set children up for success later in life. In addition to early learning to help children grow intellectually, socially and emotionally, we incorporate parent involvement and child well-being that goes beyond academics. Parents and caregivers are involved in planning and implementation of their child’s activities, they are often in the classroom actively participating and have the opportunity to take classes, they attend workshops and they are supported in achieving their own goals. Head Start also provides comprehensive nutritional, health, dental and mental health services, and stresses the importance of ongoing preventative care and early detection of health problems. This head start in life leaves a lasting impact on our children and fuels their curiosity, helping them to grow up with a passion for learning, a fair shot at good-paying jobs, and a more secure future.

Gwendoline Rosekrans' story is a true testament to what the program means to families. “I’ve been through a lot of situations in my life that many people would consider unfortunate. When I was 16, I became pregnant,” she said. “My boyfriend and I had no idea how to handle this. After our daughter was born, we realized that we must change our lives completely.” They enrolled in the Healthy Families Home Visiting Program and participated for four years, receiving constant support and the latest information about child development and parenting. After they graduated from Healthy Families, they transitioned their daughter into the Head Start program, where she received a quality early education. Through all this, Gwendoline graduated high school, attended college and received her nursing degree. She and her boyfriend married, saved and bought a house, and added another member to the family, all before the age of 25. Today, she is a NICU nurse at Upstate University Hospital and has been involved with CAP ever since. She became a Head Start Policy Council representative and serves on the agency's board of directors. “At times it seemed like way too much to handle, but with CAP’s help, we made it though.”

We are so grateful that early in our agency’s history, our board of directors and staff had the foresight to take a chance on a new, radical program that redefined the delivery of early childhood development. They allowed us to build this community filled with dedicated, caring staff and teachers, many who live in the same neighborhoods as our families, a longstanding network of partners who come from all walks of life and generously donate their time and resources and our Head Start caregivers and parents like Gwendoline, who contribute so much to the success of our program.

This time of year, we are normally out in the community doing outreach, talking about the benefits of Head Start and meeting families. We are missing that opportunity as much as we are missing our classrooms filled with our sweet children learning, participating in fun activities and field trips, and watching them make lifelong friends, but we know we will all be together again soon. We are now accepting applications for the fall and encourage you to join us in this life-changing journey. Applications are available on our website at caphelps,org or you can all (315) 252-0038 ext. 260.

Jennifer Rossi is the marketing and development director at Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca and can be reached at (315) 255-1703 ext. 155 or


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