Fifty years ago this summer, the very first Head Start programs took root as a cornerstone of Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Since that fateful summer of ’65, more than 32 million children and their families have benefitted from Head Start’s comprehensive approach to early learning.  In honor of Head Start’s 50th anniversary, the National Head Start Association has launched a public awareness campaign to highlight inspiring alumni testimonials about the transformative impact of Head Start.

Through the National Head Start Alumni Network, Head Start graduates are enthusiastically coming forward to share their stories and self-identify as proud Head start alumni- including U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell!

The alumni— from educators to doctors, business leaders to musicians, elected officials to faith leaders—have shared the power and promise of Head Start in letters-to-the-editor and op-eds that have appeared in newspapers spanning 32 states. The public awareness campaign is on track to reach readers in diverse communities across all 50 states where Head Start is changing young lives.

While each of their journeys is unique, each alum credits Head Start with putting them on the path to success, in school and in life. Here are some of their stories:

“I made my way from Head Start to Harvard, where I discovered that my roommate from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., as well as many of our peers who grew up facing the challenges of poverty, had the same story to tell. We all knew then that there must be something special about Head Start,” writes Angel Taveras, former mayor of Providence, RI in the Providence Journal. 

Karmina Barrales, an early education expert and consultant for the California Department of Education reflects in the Sacramento Bee, “Despite my parents toiling as migrant farmworkers, they were able to enroll me in a Head Start program in Chico. My Head Start teachers instilled in me a confidence and love of learning.”

Head Start laid the “foundation for a positive academic, social and emotional experience in Kindergarten,” pens Bruce Strothers, managing counsel for a major multinational company, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

In the Columbian of Oregon, Bob Harding, president of the greater Portland market at Pacific Continental Bank credits Head Start with turning him into the parent he is today and as his mom put it, “turned out to be the greatest break in our lives.”

These alumni voices speak volumes to the life-changing impact Head Start and quality early learning programs can have on our nation’s most vulnerable children. If you’re one of the 32 million Head Start alumni, or a parent of one, you can join the National Head Start Alumni Network and share your story, as Head Start continues to shape our nation’s future.