First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: Community Action Council

Photo taken prior to Covid-19

We are in the midst of a blog series to show appreciation for our community partners and supporters! Today, we are going to TALK with Jessica Coffie, the Director of Head Start at Community Action Council (CAC). The Council aims to help individuals and families become self-sufficient. They work individually with residents of the community to assess needs, set goals and plan a pathway out of poverty. If you’re interested in learning more about their programs, click here.

Let’s learn more about Community Action Council in our question and answer session with Jessica!

Can you talk about your role with Community Action Council, and what a typical day may look like for you?

I’m the Head Start Director for Community Action Council. Honestly there is no such thing as a typical day for me, especially during Covid. I can’t say I have the same day every day because each day is different. I stay available for staff, manage operations, and make sure the safety of our kiddos remains our top priority. I just want to make sure that everyone has what they need and knows that they are supported.

Can you tell us about Community Action Council’s community outreach? What role do you play in the community?

I’m proud to work for Community Action Council because we are known for helping families, children and the most vulnerable people in our community. We have our Head Start program, community service department and housing department, among others. Our community service department disburses funding for folks who need help with their utility bills, while our housing department helps the homeless find homes and helps people with their rent expenses.

Due to Covid-19, we have received additional funding to help our community with rent and housing assistance. When the virus first started, there were no diapers on the shelves and a lot of food was gone, so we were able to start a distribution center for families who needed diapers and formula. We also have God’s Pantry, where we distribute hot meals and other food items for families.

Photo taken prior to Covid-19

Can you tell us about your Prep Academy and your Head Start programs?

Within Head Start, we have partnerships and direct manage centers. In partnerships, we partner with the school system or other childcare facilities to house our Head Start program. We also have direct manage programs where the Head Start center is run entirely by us. We rebranded ourselves as the Prep Academy to reflect the high-quality childcare we provide. We want our families and community to hear the name “Prep Academy” and want to send their children here.

We believe in taking a holistic approach regarding education. We strive to include the whole family and provide educational programming to the parents as well, so we have a workforce development program that is actually a part of our Head Start program. If a parent wants to get a higher wage, they are able to get a child development associate’s degree or become a certified nursing assistant. That means they can either get a job with us, another child development center, or work in a medical care setting. We also started a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) program and have successfully trained some of our parents and other folks in the community.

We also have observed the need for more bus drivers in our schools and community. We started a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) program and have successfully trained some of our parents and other folks in the community to get their CDL. They are then hired by us or the Lexington-Fayette county bus department. Since Covid-19, we have started doing parent cafés where we just talk to parents about whatever topic they choose. That has been very successful. We also have jam sessions where parents are able to come to talk about the stressors of Covid and what they’ve been going through. We want to help the parents and children cope with this change in their environment and routine and make sure that we are supporting and providing those training supports during this difficult time.

How do your programs align with First 5 Lex’s values? Why was partnering with First 5 a logical fit?

Literacy is very important to our program. One of our 5-year grant goals is to increase literacy for families and children. First 5 Lex’s mission goes right along with that and with our goals for our program. For instance, we started a book buddies program where we send books home with the children. Before Covid-19, we used to send backpacks home full of books for the kids and then they could bring it back and switch out the books. We can’t do it that way anymore, but now the kids are receiving books that they can keep. So not only are they able to read the books, but they’re building their own personal library as well. We are also helping parents get signed up to have library cards as well. It’s important for us that they are able to access books, even if they aren’t able to purchase them.

We have also made sure that any information First 5 Lex sends us is passed along to our families. We announce events during our parent cafés and jam sessions and send the materials home in backpacks for the kids who are in session. For the families that are fully virtual and are doing remote learning, we send emails to keep them updated on what’s happening and the resources that First 5 Lex provides.

How long has Community Action Council been a part of the First 5 community team?

We’ve been a part of the team since First 5 Lex began. CAC’s Executive Director, who was the Head Start Director before me, was one of the founding members.

Why do you think the First 5 message- to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?

Literacy is the foundation of where you’re going to go in the future. And literacy doesn’t only mean reading, but also communication. If you don’t have a good foundation in reading or literacy, it’s going to hinder where you are going to go. It’s very important to us to incorporate the read, talk and play message into our programming and curriculum. I think it’s so great that we’re doing this for the early childhood age because as adults, we didn’t have this message available to us. As adults, we are just now learning to communicate and the importance of preparing children to be school-ready before they even reach kindergarten. The read, talk, and play message is very important for the future of our younger children - just to be able to communicate.

In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

I think the biggest impact is awareness. People are more aware of the benefits of reading, literacy and the holistic approach of all-around education. I think some people may not see the value of play right away, but it’s so important to help children release what’s in their mind. It’s an important part of growing and learning to communicate. It all comes back to communication. Emphasizing the “play” aspect shows that it’s okay to have fun while you’re learning.

First 5 Lex is making more people aware of how to be a part of the community and share your knowledge and what you’ve learned. Sometimes we may think we’re communicating well, but we’re not. I think it’s important that parents are aware of how they communicate with their children and how they are teaching their children to communicate. First 5 Lex is doing a great job of instilling the idea that as adults, we may have learned things one way, but it’s okay to change how our children are learning things.

First 5 Lex event (photo taken prior to Covid-19)

How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 in the future?

We just want to continue to promote the First 5 Lex message. They have been so great to this community. It’s been great to be able to see First 5 resources when I’m out and about. In some of our facilities, we also have First 5 Lex stands up with books in them. We plan to continue our collaboration in providing books and resources to families, planning different events and advocating. We plan to continue those efforts and make sure we’re assessing the community’s needs to make sure that children and families are school-ready and we are being as effective as possible in our community.


Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.

If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

I’m definitely an active person, so I would want to get outside and do something like fly a kite. Since Covid, I’ve started hiking more too. I just love getting outside, running and playing around.

If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

I would ask Beyoncé about her Let’s Move initiative with former First Lady Michelle Obama. I’m just so in love with that program. I would ask her if we could do a Let’s Move project for early childhood.

We’d like to give a big thank you to Jessica and everybody at Community Action Council. Thank you for effecting positive change in our community!

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