Ozark Action Inc. celebrates 50 years local open houses in Oregon County

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Photo/ Renee Janes Ozark Action, Inc. executive director, Bryan Adcock (left) presented board member, Randall Combs (right) with a certificate of appreciation for his service to OAI.

Ozark Action Inc. celebrated their 50th Anniversary this past week with open houses held at different locations. Members of Ozark Action and of the community gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion with fellowship and food.

During the open house ceremony, Thursday, Nov. 5, held at the courthouse in Alton, Bryan Adcock, the executive director of Ozark Action, Inc., presented board member Randall Combs with a certificate of appreciation for his contributions to the organization and for serving on the board.

On Friday, Nov. 6, they held open house at the Ozark Action Head Start in Thayer.

The Thayer Head Start is a thriving facility in spite of challenges it has faced in the past, such as last year at Halloween. The building was broken into and was senselessly vandalized. The individuals that broke into the facility dumped milk on printers and sprayed the fire extinguishers all over the place, to name a couple of the things workers and volunteers had to clean up in order to get the facility back in shape for its students.

Many of the workers are very committed to this organization. "Our education director was working for Ozark Action head start when it started and she has been with us for 48 to 49 years. That is how committed some of our people are," said Kathleen Simonson, who has been with the Thayer Head Start for 14 years. On the current staff, there are at least five people that are near or over 70 years old and have been with the organization for the majority of their entire work life. "You can't say that about many places that have that kind of commitment from their employees," said Simonson.

"There has been a lot of progress in the last 14 years, not just in Thayer, but nationwide," said Simonson. An example of how things have changed is in 2008, when the facilities started requiring teachers that were hired to have at least a two year degree in early childhood.

In Alton the head start has two classrooms that may have up to 20 students each. There is one teacher, one teacher's assistant and one family advocate per classroom. The center also has a cook.

"We serve children that are ages three and four and some turn five during the year, but they are not eligible for kindergarten at the time...We focus on taking the neediest children first. We have a point system. They get so many points for being homeless, for poverty, for being in a single parent household, for having a disability, all those things and then we take the ones with the most points first. It's not to say their needs are a bad reflection on families, low income is low income. There are not a lot of jobs that pay a lot around here," said Simonson.

All of the teacher at the head start hold degrees and this year the teachers have entered into an agreement in collaboration with the University of Missouri that started in October. On Fridays the university provides college level training to all of the staff. "They have tailored the training to meet what the staff feels that they need training in, not all staff have the same jobs. They plan the training to match the job positions. So the ones that are cooks don't get the same training as the ones that are teachers," said Simonson.

For next year, the government has proposed new hours for head starts nationwide that have not yet been officially made, it is still in a comment period. The proposal is for all head starts to be at least six hours a day and 283 days a year. Right now, the head start serves 128 days and four hours a day. This would cost the facilities more money. Which if it is approved, Congress would be asked for more money, however, if it is approved and more money is not granted, it could mean a possible decrease in children at facilities.

Head start is a grant funded program that has been available through Ozark Action since the 1960s. They provide head start in six counties and collectively serve 505 children at a time. In each class room, if 50 percent of the students are four year olds, the facility may have up to 20 children, as it does in Thayer.

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