Friday, May 29, 2009

May 29, 2009 Surprising

I went to see our new U.S. Senator, Jeff Merkley, speak in Medford last Tuesday. He was very impressive: well informed, good listener, kept his composure in the face of sometimes unfriendly questioning, seems to be making his way in the Senate. Somehow he’s been appointed to three major committees, Healthcare, Environment and Banking even thought freshman Senators are normally limited to two committee assignments.

But I should also confess that, in talking with a friend that same day I expressed the opinion that local government is really where we have to make things work and that I wasn’t sure, short of money, what the Federal government could do for us, it being so remote from our lives. Well, as often happens when I say something like that, life turns around and surprises me...which is what happened this morning when I visited the Head Start programs that are housed at Briscoe Schools.

Funded by the Federal government and the State of Oregon, the programs at Briscoe provide care for as many as 100 pre-school children whose parents are migrant or seasonal workers or who are low income. The kids are bussed in from Medford, Talent, Phoenix, White City, starting at 5 in the morning. They get two meals and a snack, have two teachers per classroom with self-directed learning activities appropriate for the different age groups all the way down to toddlers (who get bottles, diaper changes, toys and attention). Medical, dental and mental health care is available to them and parents are eligible for jobs in the program, with a policy of hiring from within.

Why do we have a program in Ashland that primarily serves kids from outside our town? Just a matter of circumstances: Briscoe is an excellent facility, probably much better than the others that were available six years ago when the programs moved here.

The net result is a nurturing and secure environment for children who would otherwise be getting very uncertain care as their parents try to make ends meet. It was heartwarming to see. The director and his assistant then showed me the bookcase full of regulations they must meet. Head Start has been around for 40 years or more. It’s astonishing the level of bureaucracy that’s involved. BUT the program is very well conceived and is doing wonderful things for children who really need the care and parents who can’t provide it on their own but are trying to be responsible for their kids’ well-being.

So I’ll admit it; I was wrong. This is something the Federal and State governments are doing well, that is of great value to our community of the Rogue Valley. Maybe it’s socialism. I don’t know. I don’t want to live in a regimented society but I also feel we need to take care of each other, especially our children, and we need to be committed about it and not simply depend on volunteers and private donations that can dry up at a time like now.

If you’d like to visit the program let me know and I’ll arrange it.