Shawn Holden’s office filing cabinet is covered with pictures of her family. When you talk with her for any length of time, you’ll find out quickly that she’s an extremely proud mom.

Twenty years ago, she was a proud mom in a tough spot. She was in a work training program called “Cleveland Works” which also operated a nearby Head Start center. So, she took her two youngest kids, then four and five years old, to enroll. She took a leap of faith, her young, energetic children by her side, and walked through the doors.

“The Head Start staff was just so inviting. They never judged me coming in the door as a parent from the projects,” she said emphatically. “Never was there a judgement upon anything I did or said, so they were very accepting of everything that I was going through at that time in my life.”

Shawn was going through a lot in her personal life and she needed help. She said the staff was more than understanding about how her circumstances affected her kids.

“It was okay for me to be me at that time,” she said. “No matter what you would say to the Family Service workers, or things that my children would do in the classroom, the staff would always bring it back as a positive spin, and offer suggestions of ‘here’s what you can do.’”

Those suggestions ended up helping Shawn more than she could have ever imagined. Not only did Head Start give her kids a safe environment, away from the stresses she faced in her personal life, but the staff helped Shawn realize she could do more.

She said the Head Start staff taught her how to be a better parent by helping her to see her role as a mother differently. They offered her parenting strategies to foster her kids’ creativity and taught her that it’s okay for her kids to learn through play. Those recommendations made Shawn shift her mindset from blindly following the way she was raised, to tailoring her parenting to what worked best for her kids.

“Because of Head Start I became a different mother,” she said thoughtfully. “Eventually, I became a different wife and a different grandmother, too.”

Shawn said her kids thrived both socially and academically in Head Start. And, as a Head Start parent, she was invited to be as involved as she wanted to be in their schooling. She said that made her feel comfortable enough to remain involved in her kids’ classes and activities as they started public school.

Today, Shawn is the Collaborative Program Manager at the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland. She’s also working on her doctorate in Early Childhood Education. She credits the Head Start staff and the program for her success and says she’s grateful for the opportunity to help other parents and their kids, too.

“Head Start sets that foundation for your children to succeed,” she said. “And, if you use the tools they give you, and you have the drive and determination, you can change the trajectory of your life.”