The Head Start program turns 50 this year. Here in Washington, thousands of parents, teachers, administrators and program directors are gathering this week for the annual Head Start Conference and Expo.

It’s a tremendous milestone for a program that has changed the course of many children’s lives and that has laid the foundation for other high-quality early childhood education opportunities.

This country was a very different place in 1965 when the Head Start program began as an eight-week summer program for young children. Today, we have access to a huge body of scientific research that shows how important the early years are to a child’s brain development and overall health. We have more and more evidence that high-quality early learning gives children a better chance to succeed in school and throughout their lifetime. Head Start was one of the very first initiatives aimed at developing the potential of children before they even reach Kindergarten and striving toward the promise that no child in this country – no matter their economic circumstances – will miss out on an equal chance at a healthy, successful life.

Today, Head Start alumni are tightly knit into the fabric of our society as doctors, lawyers, artists, business owners and military leaders. A Head Start graduate is even the mayor of a major American city. You can see the influence of Head Start in this series of videos FFYF created featuring Head Start graduates who are now accomplished adults.

All of us who work for greater support for early learning owe a great debt to Head Start for paving the way for children and families through advocating before Congress and the President year after year to strengthen our investment in our youngest citizens. Head Start has been a stabilizing and strengthening source in communities across the nation.

On behalf of the First Five Years Fund, I congratulate Head Start on 50 revolutionary years. We look forward to many more to come working side-by-side to leverage more federal investments in quality early childhood education.