Celebrating the other side of its Golden Anniversary at Mountain Heart, the Head Start and Early Head Start is now taking applications for the 2019-2020 school year.

The organization has a long track record of success stories, both nationally and locally.

The Head Start/Early Head Start is a free, comprehensive child development program that is designed to serve families in the area.

"Head Start and Early Head Start engage the family in the program," said Susan Stafford, Head Start/Early Head Start director, who has been at Mountain Heart for 32 years. "We believe the parents are the first educator of the child and we work with the families to provide them resources to enable them to best educate and advocate for their child."

It is, however, more than just an educational facility. In some instances it is a life preserver.

Stafford said the center recently received a thank you letter from a former client. The client said she became aware of the program in Monroe County and related how they came to her, when she was 16 and pregnant, and the program helped her as a single mother with a full-time job and going to school full-time. Her mother also passed away her senior year. Her son was born in 2010.

"When I had no hope left in me, these are the people who brought me up," she said in the letter, titled ""Thank You Will Never Be Enough." Each one of the people there (at the program) was there for me in so many ways. Helping with diapers, wipes and funeral expenses. They even helped me with my prom and every little thing. I knew I could count on them to help me. They are the reason I walked across the stage and got my diploma and graduated."

Later, as a single mom, she held a full-time job while also going to school full-time when her mother passed away.

She later moved to Wyoming County.

Working as a certified nurses assistant, she dreamed of becoming an LPN.

Her daughter was born in 2016 and she ended up at the Mountain Heart in Matheny.

"Everyone there was so nice and helped me in every way possible," she said. "I found out about the Early Head Start in Mullensville, about 10 minutes from our house. They got (her daughter) enrolled as soon as they had a spot."

They saw her through another pregnancy and even surprised her kids with a swing set and allowed her to fulfill her dream.

"There is no way I could have ever finished the LPN program if I didn't have the help of them caring for my babies," she said. "Thank you all from the bottom of my heart and I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the help of the Mountain Heart community."

That is the idea, Stafford said. The successes are many and they are writing more every day.

It's not just a daycare. There is learning involved. And nutrition. The goal, Stafford said, is making sure the children are prepared to succeed in life.

"We assure the children's nutritional, health (including dental), mental health and other needs are met daily so they will succeed in school and in life," Stafford said. "Children learn from hands-on experience and our curriculum enhances this with providing a learning environment that is also a nurturing environment. The program is very successful."

The Early Head Start accepts infants and toddlers from birth to age 3, offering free child care and child development service support for families.

There are seven Early Head Start locations: Maben EHS (located inside Integrated Resources); Wyoming East EHS (inside Wyoming East High School); Oceana EHS (across from Faith Baptist); Baileysville EHS (across from old Baileysville High School); Clear Fork EHS (Former Wyoming Lumber); Mullensville EHS (in Mullensville) and Westside EHS (inside Westside High School).

The Head Start program was started by federal government in 1965, and Stafford said it came to Wyoming County in 1967.

The cornerstones of the program are education, health, family and community partnerships.

The Head Start centers are: Baileysville 1 (behind Baileysville Grade School); Baileysville 2 (at Baileysville Elementary); Glen Fork (behind Glen Fork Elementary); Hanover (beside Hanover Elementary); Clear Fork (in Clear Fork); Maben 1 and 2 (Inside Integrated Resource and Southern (located by Southern West Virginia Community College).

Stafford said the Head Start program recently had 156 children ages 3-5 and 128 infant and toddlers.

The program is contracted as the pre-school provider through Wyoming County School,s so all the Head Start classrooms are part of the West Virginia Universal Pre-K.

For more information about enrolling, call Mountain Heart at 304-682-8271.