Building Bridges with Head Start

08/08/2016 09:08 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2017

Despite the pessimism in today's media and political discourse about the future and potential of this country, the opportunity for real and impactful change does exist in today's America.

Head Start, for example, stands as a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable among us. For over fifty years, Head Start programs have been at the forefront of ensuring that children and families in the country's poorest communities are getting the Head Start advantage, which they need for success in life. Head Start is more than just ABCs and 123s. The Head Start approach - comprehensive and two-generational - includes home visits, health screenings, and community resourcing. Each element of the approach is intended to get at-risk children ready for Kindergarten and set families on a stable path toward self-sufficiency. The needs of both children and families are addressed with respect, and connections with their communities are established and nurtured so that they can feel safe and supported inside the classroom and out.

Take for example, the East Side House Settlement in the Bronx. The community-based organization runs a vibrant Head Start program and makes continuous efforts not only to give community members a voice, but also bridge the gaps between the community and police. Police officers and members of the Mott Haven community regularly join forces to raise awareness about the community's concerns. The annual Community Safety Walk is one result of this partnership, during which residents walk the streets of their neighborhood, side-by-side with the police, in a joint effort to improve the safety of the neighborhood and foster community-police relations. This event also gives residents a way to advocate for change in their community around topics that are most important to them, with safety heading the list.

This partnership with The New York City Police Department has become a successful way to better the neighborhood and foster respect and trust. Regular community outreach efforts like this strengthen connections between police officers and community members. Head Start parents now report their children are no longer afraid of the police, neighbors are coming together as a community and demonstrating strength as they work cooperatively with the police for a safer, more supportive place for families and children.

The inspiring spirit of cooperation between the East House Settlement Head Start and the New York Police Department stands as a model for other communities and is a true reason for hope for all of us.