Head Start centers connect families to vaccinations

Steven getting vaccine

MARC’s Head Start program and affiliate direct service providers continued to serve families throughout the pandemic. During the past few months, Head Start direct service providers took additional steps to make sure center staff and parents had access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting in March, United Inner City Services (UICS), the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and Emmanuel Family & Child Development Center led efforts to ensure parents and staff could receive COVID-19 vaccines.

“Due to COVID-19, our facility has not been able to operate at full capacity,” said Deborah Mann, executive director at Emmanuel Family & Child Development Center. “We want children back in the classrooms. When more people get vaccinated, we can have more children in the classroom. In the past year, if someone was exposed, we had to close down or reallocate resources. Vaccinations minimize the risk of exposure for everyone.”

Partnerships have played a critical role for all three organizations in their efforts to disseminate the vaccine. When Emmanuel Family & Child Development Center built its new facility, Mann created a permanent space for Swope Health Services. This space not only makes it easier for children to receive physical exams, but it also became a lifeline for parents, teachers and community members seeking vaccines.

Through an existing relationship with Heart to Heart International, Diedre Anderson, chief executive officer at UICS, made sure UICS Head Start families and staff had access to testing in 2020. Heart to Heart also provided personal protective equipment to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. These public health efforts continued once vaccines were available to the public. UICS provided vaccination events for staff and parents in March and April.

“Our mission is, ‘Building bridges. Inspiring minds. Impacting futures,’” said Mariah Roady, director of development at UICS. “In this past year, we’ve recognized how meaningful the aspect of impacting futures is for our students, families, and the greater community.”

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City established a partnership with the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department and Walmart to help disseminate vaccines. In February and March, YMCA staff even called residents in specific ZIP codes to make sure older adults in low-income communities could access the vaccine. A major reason the YMCA has been so successful with vaccination dissemination is trust.

“People trust the Y. We aren’t just a gym or a pool. We provide multiple services to the community,” said Patty Lucas, vice president of Head Start at the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. “We’ve had a really positive response from staff, parents and our members. It has been convenient for them. We’ve had staff who could stop working, get vaccinated and return to work, all without having to take additional time off.” 

For more information about the response to COVID-19 in our region, please visit PrepareMetroKC.org.