Lady Bird Johnson and crowd of school children with Head Start Banner [LBJ Library photo #C6696-36A by Robert Knudsen] 09/20/1967

Head Start tries to track down more than 27 million alumni

Aug 12, 2013

by Michael Alison Chandler
[posted on washingtonpost.com on August 8, 2013]

Chuck Mills was the youngest of six children, raised by a single mother with no high school diploma who cleaned houses and clerked at the U.S. Postal Service to support the family. Many of Mills’s neighbors and some of his siblings dropped out of school, battled drug addiction or spent time in prison.

Mills went on to become a valedictorian of his junior high school, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, a pilot who flew Marine One for two presidents, a bond trader in New York City, and the founder and chief executive of two successful companies based in Northern Virginia.

“My life can be summed up in the words ‘wasn’t supposed to,’ ” Mills said. “I wasn’t supposed to get out of my neighborhood. Wasn’t supposed to go to Annapolis. Wasn’t supposed to work on Wall Street, and wasn’t supposed to be married for 25 years and have three great children.”

The 50-year-old Sterling resident credits a turning point that put him on the path to success: In 1966, his mother enrolled him in one of the first Head Start programs after seeing a flier at church. The announcement of a new kind of day-care center, which served lunch and took care of children all day for no charge, was a huge relief to his working mother and a jump-start on school for him.

For two years — first in St. Louis, then in Shreveport, La. — Mills said he gained a solid base in reading and numbers and a love of learning. When his family moved to Joliet, Ill., the next year, he was able to skip kindergarten and begin his new school in the first grade.

Mills’s story is one of many the National Head Start Association, an advocacy group representing Head Start centers across the country, is collecting as it begins a campaign to find and organize an estimated 27 million alumni of the program. The central office of Head Start, a federal program approved by Congress in 1964 to fight the lasting effects of poverty, is not directly involved in the effort. read more