BY SABRINA BATES
DRESDEN (June 9) – It was a week of celebration for the families, staff and students attending Weakley County Head Start in Dresden. The certificate ceremony also served as an appreciation event for family members and community supporters of the local pre-school that allows qualifying students to attend the program at no cost.
Weakley County Head Start Center Manager Lisa Alexander welcomed the families on hand offering gratitude for one of the “best” groups she has had since serving at the center. This year’s “graduating” class has endured school days in the midst of a global pandemic, which saw them wearing masks, socially-distancing and watching loved ones battle illnesses.
“Sixty-eight kids all put on the masks and they still showed up and they stayed,” Alexander shared. She said one student was upset when she couldn’t find her pink mask and asked her to get another one for the student.
As if the COVID pandemic weren’t challenging enough for a group of pre-school children and the staff members, this class also endured the devastation of a tornado that destroyed parts of Dresden and Highway 89 between Sharon and Dresden on December 10, 2021. Alexander said she took over the center December 6, 2021.
“The tornado rocked our world. Bus routes changed. I panicked, wondering where my two grown children were. Then, I started looking for you guys (December 11) and you started looking for me. What if there was no school; no Christmas for my kids,” Alexander shared.
When the students came back in January, they asked questions, such as “Did houses die? You said wood came from trees, which were alive.” Whenever the clouds became ominous, the students questioned if they were going to die and if another tornado was going to rip apart their town.
“These are some of the most resilient children there are. They will remember this pandemic. They will remember the tornado. But, they are survivors,” Alexander noted.
The pain of this school year was eased when community support started pouring in for the families of Head Start. A phone call to Weakley County Backpack Program Director Colin Johnson resulted in the Center being added to the list of food recipients. Alexander said Johnson assured her it was no problem, and from there, 2,200 bags of food were given to students over the course of the school year. Children also received boxes during the Christmas holiday. Alexander expressed her gratitude to Johnson and the Backpack Program and reminded parents the program is in need of volunteers to pack food bags each month.
“Those 45 minutes were the single best time of my life,” Alexander said.
Thanks to the continuous generosity of Amy Lewellen and Bancorp South of Dresden, Head Start received nearly 3,000 Easter eggs, T-shirts to wear and candy to hand out during local parades. The donated funds also helped the Center provide a Christmas party for the families.
Through the Dresden Business Association, an angel tree included children from the Head Start Center. Thanks to the group’s support, along with help from the Dresden Rotary Club, every child attending Head Start received Christmas presents. Alexander encouraged families to take the time to thank supporters such as Bancorp South, the Weakley County Backpack Program, Dresden Business Association and Dresden Rotary Club. She also presented a token of appreciation for resident mother and policy council member Sheena Williams, for her continued support and willingness to volunteer when asked.
“You are the finest group of parents I’ve ever met and you are doing a good job, if no one tells you. I can call you up to help with a float, you are there. Your children have learned how to be kind and how to be a kind friend. You taught them that. I am still convinced this is the best county in the world,” Alexander added.
As the ceremony concluded, Alexander asked parents to help spread the word the Center is hiring bus drivers and teachers. It takes 23 people to run the Head Start program and it is down to 12 people. The Center is also accepting applications for students in the Fall 2022 semester. There is no charge for families to send their children to Head Start. The Center is located at 231 S. Wilson St., in Dresden. Call them at 731-364-3913 for information about applying for a position or enrolling a child into the program.